On the farm, kids have endless opportunities to be hands-on and involved from a very young age. Farm kids grow up to be responsible, capable individuals, and often are mature beyond their years.
While their peers might be learning how to load the dishwasher and rake leaves, farm kids are learning how to feed and care for animals, and handle small parts of the daily operations of the farm. Unfortunately, studies have shown that farm parents often overestimate their child’s abilities and underestimate the risk of everyday farm activities as they work side by side with the younger generation.
Many articles, including one 2015 Washington Post piece, list farming as one of the most dangerous occupations in the country – it’s more dangerous to be a farmer in America than it is to be a firefighter. In addition to the danger to adult farmers, around 100 children under the age of 18 are fatally injured on American farms each year. Most of the minor victims of farm accidents are teenage boys, but there are risks to children of all ages – large animals, chemicals and machinery, to name a few.
It often feels like farm parents are walking a tight rope in trying to keep kids safe while still trying to get farm work finished. It’s often not feasible to keep children away from all potential farm dangers, and farm parents find themselves trying to mitigate those dangers the best they can, while still being productive.
How can we lessen the dangers to our little future farmers? Some things that have worked well on our farm include:
1. Start kids early
Using age-appropriate terms, state dangers simply and clearly. Don’t be mistaken that this lessens the responsibility of the adults on the farm, but making children aware of danger could be the difference between a tragic accident and a near miss. One of the things I stress here is teaching kids about animal behavior. We often pause and observe the animals around us in an effort to teach the children possible dangers such as charging, chasing and kicking.
2. Create ‘safe zones’ on the farm
There are several online resources for creating safe zones for children around farms, but take careful consideration to the location, security, danger from dust, chemicals and animals (including rodents and insects), and potential for supervision when creating safe places for your littles.
3. Take advantage of modern technology
One of the scariest moments of parenting and farming for me was shortly after I began milking. Even though my husband was sleeping in the house while I was milking, my 4-year-old appeared in the barn at 5 a.m. in late November, clad only in thin pajamas. Shortly after that, we purchased a video baby monitor that reaches from the house to the barn, with one monitor in the kids’ room and one in the living room. I am able to not only see what is going on in the house, but I can also talk to the kids through the monitor, if they wake up looking for Mom. I’ve also used it for babies napping in the milk house during chores.
4. Be vigilant about safe practices on the farm
I think we’ve all done something unsafe “just that one time” to hurry things up, even though we know that it only takes one time for something unthinkable to happen. Don’t let your guard down.
5. Make sure everyone on the farm has safety as their number one priority
This includes employees, delivery drivers, weekend help, etc. Like I said previously, too many horrible things can happen “just one time.” Don’t let visiting grandpas talk you into taking a ride in the back of the truck “because you used to do it and you were fine.” It’s hard to do, but don’t let egos override safety. Make sure that milk haulers and delivery drivers know about safety concerns too. A little secret – I’ve thanked and complimented drivers on the care that they have taken while coming in and out of the driveway. It’s proved to be a surefire way for drivers to slow down and really look when coming onto the farm. I’m also sure to call their boss and tell them that their employee does a great job.
Don’t take farm safety for granted! Creating and continuing a farm family legacy is about more than just ensuring that the farm continues – we need to make sure to take care of our family and keep them safe as well.
Heather Moore is a dairy farming mama herself, raising three little boys with her husband, Brandon. The Moore family has a 50-cow dairy and custom feeds 800 head of beef cattle near Maquoketa, Iowa. When she is not chasing around cows and kids, you'll find her volunteering, cooking and very occasionally, sleeping.
PHOTO: Farm kids often learn how to care for animals at an early age, but parents must remember that dangers are present. Photo by Heather Moore.