Every day, farm families face the looming challenge of safeguarding children while navigating a physically and mentally demanding operation. To effectively balance farm business and family safety, producers must consider the potential dangers in every aspect of their operation.
The Farm is a Workplace
Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations and the only worksite that allows children of any age to be present. Every day about 33 children are injured in agriculture-related incidents, according to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety (2022). 2022 Childhood Agricultural Injuries Fact Sheet Marshfield Clinic Health System..
Dairy operations are unique in that most of them are family-operated and intertwined with the family’s lifestyle, according to USDA. It can be tricky to navigate the daily shuffle involved with having children on the farm – and it can become routine, which can eventually lead to less situational awareness. Producers are faced with the dilemma of finding outside childcare or working with their children in tow.
Annaliese Wegner, her husband, Tom, and in-laws, Jeff and Betty Wenger, milk 600 cows three times a day. When her twins, Lane and Sage, were born five years ago, Wegner’s role on the farm changed.
“I think the biggest struggle was adjusting from full-time farmer to part-time farmer and full-time mom. It was tough,” she says. “I felt like I wasn’t doing anything, wasn’t contributing, but eventually, I realized the importance of my new role and how temporary it was.”Annaliese Wegner
It’s About Perspective
What changed for Annaliese? It was her perspective.
“I now feel lucky to be a farm mom. I didn’t always feel this way, it took time and reflection,” she says. “I’m lucky to get to spend this time on the farm with them. To watch them grow and learn. Sure, some of my personal goals and wants have taken a bit of a backseat, but soon they won’t want to hang out with me and I will have all the time in the world to do what I want.”
After hearing from several other dairy producers caring for young children on the farm, it is clear the secret is not a perfect schedule or even hiring a babysitter to care for children. In addition to a shift in perspective, it requires mastering the art of juggling.
The art of juggling
If having a balanced farm and family is at its most basic state, a juggling act, it would make sense to boil it down by learning the basics of juggling and apply them to incorporating children on the farm:
- The less you have to reach to catch each ball, the easier juggling becomes. Proximity is key. Don’t ever assume someone else is keeping an eye on young children.
- Juggling multiple balls is a matter of repeating the process over and over. On the farm, that can mean a consistent schedule and adapting your senses over time.
- Juggling can be frustrating. Remember to relax, breathe and take a break if needed. Some days will go as planned while other days might require trying again and again