On Wednesday, cabinet members met once again to discuss the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions.

In a bid to suspend the mass movement of approximately one million people, it extended the nationwide closure of schools and childcare facilities until 1 February.

For parents working from home while trying to meet their children's needs, this is an extremely difficult time.

Like thousands of rural parents nationwide, Cork dairy farmer and Agri Aware chair Alan Jagoe and his wife Helen continue to face the daily collision of work and childcare responsibilities.

All children under 12 should be fully supevised on the farm.

“Helen is a secondary school teacher and is expected to be teaching online.

"The three girls are under the age of six and all at home right now. We are expecting our fourth baby in April.

"As well as that, there will be over 200 cows calving over the next couple of months.

And with the nature of farming at this time of year, I won’t be able to spend as much time inside as I would like, helping out with the kids."

Hold the calves!

“We can’t tell the cows ‘hold on to your calves for another few months, because we’re expecting another baby ourselves and the schools are not open’.”

Alan is very grateful for the childcare support of his parents during the usual spring rush, but, like many others, he simply cannot rely on it this year.

“Traditionally, our parents are the ones we turn to," he explains.

"But we are all in our own bubbles at the moment and cannot put our parents’ health at risk in order to rectify the closure of schools and crèches.

On the farm you can’t stop working – you can’t stop feeding livestock and looking after crops

“Years ago, one parent may have been able to look after the children because a family could get by on a single farm income, but that just isn’t the case anymore," he continues.

"And unfortunately, on the farm you can’t stop working – you can’t stop feeding livestock and looking after crops."

Businessman working from home.

“I acknowledge that the Government have supplied many people with the PUP, but it is not ideal in the long run, as it will have to be paid back in the future and the childcare situation is urgent.”

Farm safety paramount

Farm safety is paramount and particularly important during periods of high stress.

As we now set out preparing for a busy spring time, it is vital that we ensure our children are safe on the farm while they stay at home.

“While mammy or daddy is trying to finish work on the laptop and the other is out on the farm, children can wander," he says.

"The farm safety issue here is a huge concern. Coming up to the spring, there is so much going on, with tractors and machinery on the go, milk lorries reversing and excited cows and ewes around.

“We are all exhausted by this juggling now and tiredness can be a factor to letting your safety guard slip. As a farmer and a parent, you have to operate in a safe manner above anything else.”

Some tips to help keep children safe on the farm during lockdown

  • Keep children out of work areas. Play areas should be secure and away from the work area. Having a secure gateway between the house and farmyard is important.
  • Children will learn farm safety by being outside on the farm, but they must be closely supervised by an adult who isn’t involved in any work.
  • Cows and ewes that have recently given birth can be particularly excitable and dangerous. Livestock being moved or handled also poses a risk. Children in particular should keep well away.
  • Although children should not be left unattended on the farmyard, it is vital to organise and secure machinery, chemicals and medicines, as well as safely covering pits, wells and tanks.
  • If, as a last resort, your child must be on the farm with you, it is safer to have them strapped into the passenger seat of a tractor, than watching from outside.
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