By LaNae Nalder
In 2008, my husband Shad took our two little girls out to feed some bottle calves we were raising. They were out of their pen and in the process of chasing them in three metal cow panels accidentally fell on top of Rylie our four-year-old daughter. I had to resuscitate her, which I was able to do because I had certified as a First Responder years earlier. It was scary, the longest forty-five minutes of my life. We were able to life flight her to the needed Children’s Hospital. Rylie’s skull was fractured in nine places. Comatose for twelve days. At several different times the Doctors did not know if she would live. After thirty days, we were finally able to carry our beloved daughter home. Experiences like this force individuals to decide if an agricultural lifestyle is worth the risks it places on children.
It is no big surprise that the National Safety Council lists agriculture as the most hazardous industry in America. Forbes magazine classified agriculture related work as five of the top ten most dangerous jobs. Farming and ranching is hard physical work with no set hours, no vacation, and terrible benefits, yet it is crucial to the survival of society. It takes a special breed of character to love and desire this type of employment. The majority of the time our youth need to be born and raised into this lifestyle to fully understand its worth and sacrifices.
Ag Safety Statistics happily reported that between 1998 and 2009 the rate of childhood agricultural injuries declined by 57%. Wow, that’s great news, right? Wrong. I strongly believe much of this statistic is formulated because of decrees in childhood agriculture involvement. Gone are the days when parents task heavy responsibility on their children. As a fourteen year old girl, I was the potato seed chopping crew foreman, overseeing other youth starting at age eleven with no adult supervision at the cellar. Imagine the belts, knives, and chains involved in this process. With all the dangerous equipment and health risk factors this type of work for youth today is a no-no, kyboshed, frowned upon, and governmentally regulated.
As a parent and 4-H leader I can promise that there is no better way to teach agronomy and husbandry than by example and hands on experiences. The Future Farmers of America motto states, “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn”, meaning the best way to learn is to do. In the work field employers love farm raised kids because they have good work ethics, a respect for life, and common sense. The American farm way is working side by side as a family. As a farm parent, I want my children to embrace these good qualities, but sad to say that the best way to achieve this goal comes with risks.
It is never a good thing when the doctors at the local urgent care know you on a first name basis. Raising four active children on our small farm doesn’t come unnoticed by the medical field when we make several trips a year to their facilities. One time I had to run Regan our nine-year-old daughter in for stitches to the back of her head. As the Doctor worked he wanted to know more and more about how this accident happened. (They are required by law to make sure there is no abuse in the home.) Regan was explaining to him that as she was driving the 4-wheeler a crow bar slipped off the back and came up to whack her in the head causing the deep laceration. The Doctor was furious. He tore into me, ranting that it was my responsibility to make sure she had on a helmet, I wasn’t fulfilling my parental duties, and rather accused me of being incapable. Now, I am a nice patient person, but I also can take only so much. After several attempts to try and further explain ourselves only to be rudely interrupted I had had enough. I asked the Doctor if he had ever ripped out an old aluminum main line? “NO”. Was he aware of the temperature outside of his air-conditioned office. “96’, hot.” I went on to explain that the family was out redoing an old main line and between clamp sections we would load the supplies on the 4-wheeler to drive the next thirty feet. I told him it was hot outside and no-one is going to stand there in a helmet preforming hard manual labor. I also told him that until he joined my family working on the farm he had no right to judge. I did not feel that we were in an unsafe enviorment. We weren’t out driving recklessly on the sand dunes, we were safely working, it just happened. The Doctors attitude has completely changed with me the last few times we were in.
A word of advice that I have learned from life. No one wants accidents of any type to come ag related or not, but they do come. It is much better to be proactive rather than reactive. Take the time to put the PTO guard back on. Make sure you are doing every effort to avoid any farm accident. Go sign up for a two-hour CPR course, it really could save a life. And if the time comes make sure you have an emergency plan in place so you can keep your cool. Be part of the solution to improve farm safety, especially in youth. None of us want these situations to happen, but unless we are locked in a padded room sucking food out of a straw it is unfortunately part of life.
Now back to my original question, is the risk of child involved in an agricultural lifestyle worth it? Each parent must answer that for themselves, but I know that my children are the reason why I am doing this labor. Our family loves the land, animals, seasons, and life on the ranch. Outside in extreme cold weather braking ice for cows or moving handlines in 100 degree temperatures is not fun. It is tough and miserable, but it helps children grow into good decent adults. This approach has worked for generations. Shad and I are both born and raised farm kids and it is the only method we know to raise our family. I constantly pray no accidents befall and am thankful that Rylie is alive, but yes, I feel it is worth the danger to have my children learning and growing in agriculture.