I’m a rancher, raising cows and riding horses. My husband manages a crop-based farm. We are also parents. Our first and most important job is keeping our son safe.
Each year in Canada an average of 115 people are killed and another 1,500 are hospitalized due to farm-related incidents. From 1990 to 2005, 217 children aged 14 or younger were killed on Canadian farms. Approximately 45 per cent were under the age of five.
Working on a farm is a full time job, and so is being a parent. The two do not have to be incompatible but doing both takes planning.
Children and livestock
Animals can be as curious as children, and although there are many cute stories, photos and movies, children and animals are a potentially deadly combination.
Do your best not to have your children around when working with your livestock. To many prey animals such as cattle and horses, the size and speed of a child mimics the movements of predators like coyotes. When you have calves and foals, the dams are going to be much more protective of their offspring. A peripheral view of a smaller fast moving “something” may result in a kick or a head butt from a cow or a horse. They won’t stop to see if it’s a child or a coyote.
Do not ask children to watch gates, operate handling equipment or hold medications. They don’t have the physical strength or the mental concentration to do adult work. Even an older teen can become distracted.
Equipment safety is much more than tractors and augers. It can be about the tools in your farm shop, the truck or the handling system you use for grain or livestock. If you are farm safe (and you all are, right?) then you know that farm equipment is scaled for adult use. It is designed for adults to operate safely when they follow the safety guidelines. No farm equipment is designed for children.
The small size of children can lead them to crawl or climb into unsafe places. Ladders and maintenance doors are a source of endless wonder for children. Teach your children that they cannot play in or around equipment. They should not play with tools and handling equipment.
Stationary equipment and moving equipment have different concerns for farming parents. Sometimes if you have to move a tractor or a truck the safest thing is for your child to be with you. But how safe are they?
Standing behind the seat of the tractor can lead to a child leaning against a window that may pop open. A child in Manitoba recently fell out of a tractor window and narrowly missed being run over by the implement her dad was towing.
A combine parked in a shop for an oil change seems pretty safe. Except for the bucket of oil, which a child can easily fall into and drown. Even farm chemicals can be deadly to children because of the size of exposure they are able to handle.
Eyes on Safety
“Eyes on Safety” is a basic program we use on our farm. It is not (yet) been formally written up nor marketed. It is a simple rule — no adult proceeds with farm work until they can put their eyes on the other people in their immediate area. Adults and children. The rule is simple: if I can’t see you and I’m the one starting the animal work or operating the equipment we don’t start.
When working with livestock we don’t start moving them until we have visually confirmed that everyone who is supposed to be working with the animals is in place and anyone who isn’t is safely accounted for elsewhere. Sometimes this “visual” check requires a walk to find everyone, or even a text message.
When working on equipment, the person running the machinery doesn’t start an engine or engage a PTO until they visually confirm the location of the people in the yard. We also require that if someone is going to be working on a piece of equipment in the field that they take the keys out and keep them on their person — a “lock out.” No one wants to be head first in a plugged haybine and hear the tractor start up.
Children make farming more challenging but also more rewarding. This is our chance to share our Make time together something worth remembering for the love and the laughter, not the heartache and tears.
And keep in mind: the same rules we engage with young children are also the ones we use when working on farms with the elderly or those in poor health. They may know what they’re doing on a farm, but their age and health require us to watch out for them.
There are many great resources on the Internet for farm safety and great programs for families and their children. Use your rainy days and evenings to do some research and make sure your farm is a place where dreams can be grown. †