As farmers we assume we know all about farm safety. But different farms have different safety rules and needs. Here’s how to be a good farm guest when you’re visiting or helping, and some tips for welcoming visitors to your farm
If you’re like most farmers, you like to help out when you visit friend or neighbour’s farm. Helping is great, and often truly appreciated. It can also be dangerous and potentially deadly.
If you’re helping, being a good farm guest requires setting aside what you know of your own farm and listening to your host’s instructions. Grain farming is not the same as beef farming, that one is a “no brainer.” But have you thought about the differences between moving beef and dairy cattle? Riding horses and feedlot horses? What about farms with specific handling practices like low stress? Even if you have a livestock operation you don’t likely handle your animals the same way as your friend. Even your handling equipment may be different.
Beef farming friends who are helping at harvest need to keep in mind the same equipment safety rules that they employ during haying or silage season. All equipment has different safety requirements.
If you’re going to be a good farm guest and want to help out, remember three things: communicate, confirm and continue.
Communicate: Ask what is going to be done. Make sure to share what you are able to do. Communicate about what is being done, and who you’re working with. Ensure you are comfortable with the plan, and let your host know if you’re not.
Confirm: Personal experience has gotten me in the habit of asking guests who wish to help move livestock or even fix fence to confirm what we are each going to be doing. I need to know that they’ll be where I expect them to be, for their safety and mine. On our farm we have an “eyes on safety” rule — the person heading up the animal work or operating the equipment does not start until they have visually confirmed that everyone is where they need to be.
Continue: Farming operations are time sensitive, whether it be harvesting, doctoring animals or even moving equipment. There is, however, a maxim worth remembering: fast is slow, slow is fast. Doing what needs to be done at a safe speed is the fastest way to get it done. It takes much longer to redo a job than to do it right the first time.
Notes for a good host
Make sure at least one person who is familiar with your farm is with your guests at all times. This is not the time to test their knowledge. It may seem silly to have to remind someone to watch out for the back feet of a cow or keep away from a moving auger, but it’s also safe.
Working visits with children are full of potential for fun, great photos and danger. Regardless of their age, visiting children (and your own children) need to be supervised by an adult who’s away from the work. As a parent, I know that in the excitement of playing with friends, my own son can forget our safety rules.
Have a safe play area designated and a responsible adult supervising the children. Make sure no one moves or does any work until they confirm that the children are where they’re supposed to be. Children are curious, fast and small. This makes them difficult to see until they are in the middle of a dangerous situation.
Quick tips for visitor safety:
Safety first for you and your guests.
Know where your first aid kits are.
Visually confirm everyone is safely in position before starting work.
Communicate what you want to do, what could happen, and Plan B.
Continue to get the work done.
Keep the children safely away from where you are working.
Ensure everyone is wearing the correct gear.
Put the phones on vibrate or mute — you may think your ringtone rocks but the livestock won’t.
Remember, “safety first”. No one wants a fun farm visit to end in tragedy. †
Fires happen. Make sure you’re ready to protect your family, your livestock and your yard if the worst case scenario happens to you
How fire ready is your farm? A google search for “farm fire preparedness” will turn up at least 3 million hits. There are many publications and websites. But how many farmers actually put that information to use? Here are some very basic things you can do to ensure that you’re ready for the worst.
Field and Farmyard
Your fields can be a huge fuel source for a fire. You know this if you burn stubble. Dried grass, brush and stubble, even standing ripe crops, are vulnerable to fires.
When you stand in your farmyard and look out at the fields, ask yourself, if there was a fire, where would you plough a fire break? Do your fields come right up to the windbreak in your yard? Do you have a dugout or pond to pump water from? Have you noticed what seasons bring the strongest and driest winds?
A farmyard can be a fire trap or it can be defended. Planning ahead and placing resources correctly can make all the difference.
1. Test your ability to hook up the tractor and discer. How quickly could you do it safely? Can you create a fire break around your yard, or is that area cluttered with old equipment? Are the gates wide enough?
2. Start up your pump and hose and test it. A pump that won’t fire and a hose with holes or cracks is more useless than no pump or hose. If you don’t have them, you’re not counting on them. If you have them and they don’t work, you’ll waste valuable time fooling around with them.
3. Make an evacuation plan for your farmyard. Know who will stay to keep things wet and plough fire breaks and who will leave to safety. Know where you will go, and make sure you have an alternate route to get there in case the regular way is blocked by fire or smoke.
Knowing what to do while the fire is small is critical in keeping it under control. At no time should you risk your own health or safety. Equipment and even animals can be replaced, and crops re-grown. Your family will not skip mourning you because you died saving the new tractor.
Barn and Livestock
Livestock are very vulnerable to injury and death in fires. Their housing is fraught with danger as it’s filled with both fuel and ignition sources. It is also very difficult to remove animals from many modern farm buildings. Most farmyards with multiple animal buildings are not designed with emergency evacuation or animal containment in mind.
4. Make a plan and share it. You need to plan how you’ll take care of your animals in the event of a farm fire threat. Barn fires are as different as the varied barn designs you see everywhere. Each has a strong point and a number of weaknesses. You know your barn well. But if you aren’t there, who will know what to do? You may have a top notch fire plan, but have you shared it with your local fire department, or your neighbours? Their lives could depend upon it.
5. Think about what your animals will do. There is no set way that livestock react in a fire, but there are some common reactions. “Fight or flight” is one description, and animals will sometimes do these one right after the other. They will run away from danger that they cannot fight, but fire fire is not truly seen as a danger to most domestic animals. The fire fighters, the outside noise, lights and sounds of human panic are understood as danger. Their instinct to go to a “safe place” is strong and, tragically, that safe place is the burning barn you are trying to save them from. Knowing how to prepare your horse barn, with fire halters and proper strategies for calming moving animals, can save their lives and yours.
6. Make your barn fire safe. What can we do? Better alarms, fire walls, reducing fuel load and ignition sources. Make sure your barn can be “shut off” in sections so a fire can’t control the entire facility.
7. Don’t forget about open range livestock. These animals face tragically different fire dangers. Wildland fires will push animals to higher ground or against fences that they cannot see. They may become entangled in partially burnt fences. After extremely fast moving grass fires, I’ve seen cattle with their legs burnt, but no soot on their faces. Given a chance, some horses and cattle can instinctively find safety, but this is not a strategy you can count on. Fences, natural barriers and factors such as noise, wind, water bombers and smoke can disorient, confuse and panic animals back into the fire they were fleeing.
8. Keep yourself safe. Never allow someone into a burning building to save an animal. This instinct is strong but also deadly. People can be overcome quickly with smoke and require rescue themselves.
9. Provide care after the fire. With people and animals, smoke inhalation is very often the cause of death in a fire. Toxic smoke suffocates many long before the fire reaches them. Animals “rescued” from smoke often require treatment, and sometimes euthanasia, due to smoke damage.
Planning ahead can reduce losses, but until we can eliminate fires from our farms we won’t eliminate the deadly impact they can have on our farms and communities. †
It’s wonderful to have children on the farm, but it’s also dangerous. Try Shanyn Silinski’s “eyes on safety” method to keep your family safe
I’m a rancher, raising cows and riding horses. My husband manages a crop-based farm. We are also parents. Our first and most important job is keeping our son safe.
Each year in Canada an average of 115 people are killed and another 1,500 are hospitalized due to farm-related incidents. From 1990 to 2005, 217 children aged 14 or younger were killed on Canadian farms. Approximately 45 per cent were under the age of five.
Working on a farm is a full time job, and so is being a parent. The two do not have to be incompatible but doing both takes planning.
Children and livestock
Animals can be as curious as children, and although there are many cute stories, photos and movies, children and animals are a potentially deadly combination.
Do your best not to have your children around when working with your livestock. To many prey animals such as cattle and horses, the size and speed of a child mimics the movements of predators like coyotes. When you have calves and foals, the dams are going to be much more protective of their offspring. A peripheral view of a smaller fast moving “something” may result in a kick or a head butt from a cow or a horse. They won’t stop to see if it’s a child or a coyote.
Do not ask children to watch gates, operate handling equipment or hold medications. They don’t have the physical strength or the mental concentration to do adult work. Even an older teen can become distracted.
Equipment safety is much more than tractors and augers. It can be about the tools in your farm shop, the truck or the handling system you use for grain or livestock. If you are farm safe (and you all are, right?) then you know that farm equipment is scaled for adult use. It is designed for adults to operate safely when they follow the safety guidelines. No farm equipment is designed for children.
The small size of children can lead them to crawl or climb into unsafe places. Ladders and maintenance doors are a source of endless wonder for children. Teach your children that they cannot play in or around equipment. They should not play with tools and handling equipment.
Stationary equipment and moving equipment have different concerns for farming parents. Sometimes if you have to move a tractor or a truck the safest thing is for your child to be with you. But how safe are they?
Standing behind the seat of the tractor can lead to a child leaning against a window that may pop open. A child in Manitoba recently fell out of a tractor window and narrowly missed being run over by the implement her dad was towing.
A combine parked in a shop for an oil change seems pretty safe. Except for the bucket of oil, which a child can easily fall into and drown. Even farm chemicals can be deadly to children because of the size of exposure they are able to handle.
Eyes on Safety
“Eyes on Safety” is a basic program we use on our farm. It is not (yet) been formally written up nor marketed. It is a simple rule — no adult proceeds with farm work until they can put their eyes on the other people in their immediate area. Adults and children. The rule is simple: if I can’t see you and I’m the one starting the animal work or operating the equipment we don’t start.
When working with livestock we don’t start moving them until we have visually confirmed that everyone who is supposed to be working with the animals is in place and anyone who isn’t is safely accounted for elsewhere. Sometimes this “visual” check requires a walk to find everyone, or even a text message.
When working on equipment, the person running the machinery doesn’t start an engine or engage a PTO until they visually confirm the location of the people in the yard. We also require that if someone is going to be working on a piece of equipment in the field that they take the keys out and keep them on their person — a “lock out.” No one wants to be head first in a plugged haybine and hear the tractor start up.
Children make farming more challenging but also more rewarding. This is our chance to share our Make time together something worth remembering for the love and the laughter, not the heartache and tears.
And keep in mind: the same rules we engage with young children are also the ones we use when working on farms with the elderly or those in poor health. They may know what they’re doing on a farm, but their age and health require us to watch out for them.
There are many great resources on the Internet for farm safety and great programs for families and their children. Use your rainy days and evenings to do some research and make sure your farm is a place where dreams can be grown. †