The Farmer in the Dell

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For the 1936 American comedy film, see The Farmer in the Dell (film).
"The Farmer in the Dell"
Roud #6306
Written Germany
Published 1820
Form Nursery rhyme
Writer Traditional
Language English

"The Farmer in the Dell" is a singing game, nursery rhyme and children's song. It probably originated in Germany, and was brought to North America by immigrants.[1] From there it spread to many other nations and is popular in a number of languages. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 6306.


Lyrics vary even within the same country. The following is a common version in the United States:

The farmer in the dell
Heigh-ho,[2] the derry-o
The farmer in the dell
The farmer takes a wife (2×)
Heigh-ho, the derry-o…
The farmer takes a wife
The wife takes the child (2×)
Heigh-ho, the derry-o…
The wife takes the child
The child takes the nurse (2×)
Heigh-ho, the derry-o…
The child takes the nurse
The nurse takes the cow (2×)
Heigh-ho, the derry-o…
The nurse takes the cow
The cow takes the dog (2×)
Heigh-ho, the derry-o…
The cow takes the dog
The dog takes the cat (2×)
Heigh-ho, the derry-o…
The dog takes the cat
The cat takes the mouse (or rat) (2×)
Heigh-ho, the derry-o…
The cat takes the mouse(or rat)
The mouse (or rat) takes the cheese (2×)
Heigh-ho, the derry-o…
The mouse (or rat) takes the cheese
The cheese stands alone (2×)
Heigh-ho, the derry-o…
The cheese stands alone

The UK variant has the nurse and the dog, it ends by patting the dog.[citation needed]

Origins and dissemination[edit]

The rhyme is first recorded in Germany in 1826, as "Es fuhr ein Bau'r ins Holz," and was more clearly a courtship game with a farmer choosing a wife, then in turn the selecting of a child, maid, and serving man, who leaves the maid after kissing.[1] This was probably taken to North America by German immigrants, where it next surfaced in New York in 1883 much in its modern form and using a melody similar to "A Hunting We Will Go".[1] From here it seems to have been adopted throughout the United States, Canada (noted from 1893), the Netherlands (1894) and Great Britain; it is first found in Scotland in 1898 and England from 1909. In the early twentieth century it was evident as wide as France ("Le fermier dans son pré"), Sweden ("En bonde i vår by"), Australia, and South Africa.[1]


Like most children's songs, there are geographic variations.

In the United Kingdom the first line is frequently changed to "The Farmer's in his den". The rhyme progresses through the farmer being in the dell/his den, his desire for a wife, hers for a child, its for a nurse, a dog, ending with a bone, ending in: "we all pat the dog".[1] The 'Hi-Ho, the derry-o' is variously replaced with "Ee-i, tiddly-i" in London, 'Ee-i, adio', 'Ee-i, andio' or 'Ee-i, entio', (in Northern England), and 'Ee-i, ee-i' (for instance in the West Country).[1]

The Romanian language version is "Țăranul e pe câmp" (The farmer is on the field) but the hey-o is replaced with "Ura, drăguţa mea" (Hooray, my sweet heart) and the last verses are – the child has a nurse, the nurse has a cat, the cat catches a mouse, the mouse eats a cheese, the cheese was in a cask, the cask is in the garbage, the farmer to choose.

There is also a Thai version to the same tune but with a slightly different story. The three verses roughly translate to "Why does the frog have a stomach ache? Why does the frog have a stomach ache? Because he has been eating wet rice. Why is the rice wet? Why is the rice wet? Because it has been raining. Why has it been raining? Why has it been raining? Because the frog has been croaking."[citation needed]

The song was published as an illustrated children's book by David R. Godine, Publisher in 2004.


The players form a circle holding hands around one who is designated as the farmer, singing the first verse while moving around. When the verse is over they stop and the farmer makes his choice of a wife (sometimes without looking). The wife joins him in the center for her verse and so through the verses until either the cheese or dog is selected or only one person is left to become the last character. They usually become the farmer for the next round.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Power Rangers RPM antagonist Tenaya 7 whistles the song while hunting Ranger Series Green in her introductory episode.
  • Omar Little on the show The Wire whistles the melody in some scenes when he is about to rob someone.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g I. Opie and P. Opie, The Singing Game (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 183-9.
  2. ^ William Wells Newell (1883). William Wells Newell, ed. Games and songs of American children, collected and compared by W.W. Newell. Harper and Brothers. pp. 129–30. Retrieved 2 August 2012.