Let’s get realistic; when it comes to mixing childcare with farming, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution. Not all parents have the option of one parent staying at home while the other works on the farm. Grandparents are mostly out of the equation at the moment and every family is different, every farm is different, especially if one parent is a frontline worker.
Jimmy Rohan from Kilkenny understands the problem all too well, his two sons are aged six and seven. “All the boys want is to be outside, that’s the reality of it, good, bad or indifferent, all you can do is keep impressing the dangers on to them,” he says.
Farming families know that farms are busy places to be, regardless of the time of year. The cows may be in the fields, but that doesn’t remove all the dangers that children can be exposed to on the premises.
“It can be difficult at times, but you just have to manage, and be as vigilant as possible,” says Jimmy. He points out, that the problem with some guidelines from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) may not be applicable to everyone.
“As far as the people writing the safety procedures go, I’m not sure they have any real appreciation of how rural life works, and all we can do as farmers is keep repeatedly reminding the kids not to do silly things, and make sure that we don’t do silly things either.”
It’s a frustration felt by many farmers. However, Jimmy says that if the kids are with him, that he will undertake smaller jobs like fixing the fencing, so the children are safe in the open field.
If there’s bottle feeding to be done, let the children do it
This is exactly the advice that Alma Jordan, the founder of AgriKids would give to farming parents. “It’s about giving the children age-appropriate jobs, to help them actively engage with the farm in a safe way, while instilling in them an awareness of the farm and everything that goes with it.” She says that by giving children their own responsibilities, they will stay engaged and are less likely to put themselves in danger.
“If there’s bottle feeding to be done, let the children do it. We have a whiteboard in the shed so the children can map out the pens and I recently saw an eight-year-old girl taking down tag numbers that were missing from calves.”
According to Alma, there are always jobs to be done that are age appropriate and it is important to engage kids with chores that can be done instead of keeping them away from it altogether.
Anything can happen when a cow is calving
Safety zones are another tip for parents who must undertake jobs that are not safe for children, such as when a cow is calving.
“Anything can happen when a cow is calving, the children must be kept back behind a barrier. You’re dealing with a highly agitated animal that can kick out or even charge, even when nine times out of 10 the animal is docile.
“New mothers are particularly protective of their new calves.”
Alma points out that a freshly calved cow is the most dangerous animal on a farm as statistically, they cause more livestock damage than a bull. It is also a good opportunity to reinforce the idea of staying safe, while it is also an excellent learning opportunity about life on the farm.
Since the coronavirus lockdown, two children have died as a result of a farm accident and the HSA fears that there may be more.
The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has also issued an appeal to farmers to be extra vigilant around the matter of child safety since the lockdown.
IFA president Tim Cullinan says: “A farm can be a wonderful place for children, where independence and responsibility are fostered. However, it can also be a dangerous place where the unthinkable can happen in a matter of seconds. Children are expected to be at home for an extended period of time, with social isolation meaning their activity outlets are curtailed. Farm families must plan for this.”
The amount of deeply concerned people that contacted me about these things is unbelievable
As Jimmy, Alma and the organisations repeat their mantra of vigilance, it’s just as important to follow through on the warnings and practice farm safety at every instance. Unfortunately there has been a huge surge of photographs being shared on social media of children taking part in activities that are simply not safe.
“I have seen a toddler managing ewes and lambs off a trailer for example,” says Alma.
“The amount of deeply concerned people that contacted me about these things is unbelievable. Unfortunately, people think this is cute and it’s fun, but in my role as an advocate, I know that it’s not.”
Some of the general public made comments that the child was safe because there was a parent present, however, if that parent is filming on their phone, they are distracted. The message from experts is simple, if you are distracted, your child is not safe.
For updated advice on farm safety advice for children, visit the following websites: