Is your child ready for farm chores?

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While recently catching up on some reading, I saw an article that caught my interest. It was titled “Is your child ready for farm chores?”

Since I work with dairy youth programs, this topic captured my curiosity. However, as a parent who had regularly enforced chores upon our sons, I had not posed such a question to myself when they were growing up.

Common sense (I thought) had guided those decisions. Remembering my husband’s recent and serious altercation with a farm bull has increased my awareness of how a routine task can turn into a life-altering situation within a matter of seconds.

So I pulled up my chair to the computer and researched this topic.

Research

The North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks is the online resource (http:/www.nagcat.org ) that provided the answer to the question posed. It provides tools to help us when determining age-appropriate farm chores for children.

By using the guidelines, you can match up a child’s growth and development with the requirements of different farm chores. It focuses on children 7-16 by addressing decisions of parents and professionals who interact with farm families.

The logo speaks volumes, but North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks has one primary mission that simply states, “Helping kids do the job safely is our goal!”

Dangerous

Just in case you did not know, agriculture remains one of the most dangerous occupations in North America. The fact sheet for North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks relates that about 100 children are killed and 32,800 are seriously injured on farms and ranches in the U.S.

Unintentional injury can occur when adults and children mistake physical size and age for ability. Adults can seriously underestimate the levels of risk and hazard. Think of the near misses on your own farms?

Probably most of us assign chores based on our own childhood experiences and the need for “extra hands” to get the job done.

The guidelines were developed to assist adults in assigning safe and appropriate farm jobs to children.

In 1996, the National Committee for Childhood Agricultural Injury Prevention called for the establishment of work guidelines for children as a foundation on which to build other safety strategies … such as age appropriate chores.

Now that you know the history, please understand that because each child’s growth and development is different, these recommendations for agricultural chores are not based on age.

Chores

It is quite simple to search for the chores. Once identified, a viewer will be taken to a colorful worksheet that asks a variety of questions that include adult responsibilities, main hazards, training and adult supervision, as well as a picture of the chore being done safely.

I was not surprised to discover that the No. 1 guideline searched was “milking cows.” Other ones most often visited dealt with tractors, farming with ATVs and working with large animals.

At first glance, you may perceive the information as somewhat trivial. Please remember that they are guidelines, not ultimatums.

According to Scott Heiberger, a communications specialist with the National Farm Medicine Center in Wisconsin, the efficacy of North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks was reported in the American Journal of Public Health (January 2006).

Lead author Anne Gadomski, M.D., M.P.H., led a study of children on 845 farms in central New York. Half of the farms were randomly assigned to the intervention — a copy of North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks and a visit from an educator to review the guidelines. The control group completed a baseline survey only.

Giving parents the guidelines helped reduce childhood injuries by nearly one-half, the study found.

If interested, you can read the complete article at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1247601 or feel free to contact Scott Heiberger directly at heiberger.scott@mcrf.mfldclin.edu.

Indeed, one of the greatest “off the farm” products has been our kids. They develop a positive work ethic attitude and exercise has provided them a healthier lifestyle.

All too often we are made acutely aware of the “near misses” that happen and the heartbreak of an accident or loss of a child.

If such a resource as North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks can provide us some immunity to the agriculture related accidents, I encourage families, industry, educators, farm organizations and health care professionals to take a serious look at the guidelines.

Good investment

It may be the wisest investment you make this year, and it will not cost you a penny. In fact, it could possibly save a life of our most precious resource, the next generation.

About the Author

Bonnie Ayers is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. More Stories by Bonnie Ayers

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