Farm Progress

Assign age-appropriate chores to your kids.

Paula Mohr, Editor, The Farmer

July 1, 2016

3 Min Read

Back in the day, my brother Greg started driving tractor when he was 7 years old.

He distinctly remembers that first time. He drove our Farmall 300 that was pulling the hay baler. Dad was on the wagon, stacking hay bales. His instruction was basic—how to brake—which would have been a challenge, given his height at the time—and “pull the torque.”

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He was around that age when he started going to the stanchion barn to help with chores, such as feeding cows and calves, washing udders, throwing down hay bales from the mow, forking down corn silage from the silo, sweeping the feed manger and scraping barn alleys. Most of this work was a better fit to his age and capabilities as it was all manual labor and did not involve machinery.

That’s not to say an accident could not have happened. A packed hay mow could still be tricky to maneuver as could a skittish first-calf heifer with a swollen udder.

If my dad were farming with today’s more powerful, larger, hi-tech field equipment, I wonder at what age he would have my brother climb into the cab to do field work. My guess is that he would wait several years, maybe until my brother would have been 12 or 13?

I understand the need to have farm kids help outside and do chores. My brother loved farming from an early age and wanted to be outside working with dad. I didn’t have his passion at the time and was not pressed into farm chores until I was older. When the time came to help, we learned by watching dad do the same thing over and over again, as well as getting some training when machines were involved.

I’d be interested in hearing how you introduce your children to farm chores and at what ages. When is a farm kid ready to operate a tractor today?

I’m prompted to raise this topic because the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, based in Marshfield, Wisconsin, today released its 2016 Childhood Agricultural Injuries Fact Sheet. Its statistics gave me pause:

-Every three days, a child dies in an agriculture-related incident.

-Every day, 33 children are injured in an ag-related accident.

-The leading sources of fatalities are machinery (25%), motor vehicles/ATVs (17%) and drowning (16%).

-For working youth, tractors were the leading source of fatalities followed by ATVs.

-Vehicles were the leading source of injury for youth who live on a farm.

-Animals were the leading source of injury for both non-working farm youth and visitors.

The center noted some trends since the last fact sheet was released in 2014:

-Among household youth on farms, injury rates increased in the 10-19 age group, despite a continued overall decline in the rate of childhood agricultural injuries, which also includes hired youth and visiting children.

-While overall numbers of farm injuries are declining, injuries to household youth have held steady.

-From 2003 to 2010, among workers younger than 16 years, the number of worker fatalities in agriculture was consistently higher than in all non-agricultural industries combined.

The center’s fact sheet [https://www.marshfieldresearch.org/Media/Default/NFMC/PDFs/2016-Child-Ag-Injury-Fact-Sheet.pdf] suggests these injury prevention strategies for the farm:

-Keep kids away from tractors

-Keep young children out of the worksite

-Assign age-appropriate work

-Provide training and supervision

-Provide a safe environment and equipment

All common-sense suggestions that most, if not all, farming parents follow. Yet, accidents still do happen—when you’re in a hurry, you’re tired.

Be mindful of what you all are doing. Be safe.

About the Author(s)

Paula Mohr

Editor, The Farmer

Mohr is former editor of The Farmer.

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