Photo by Janet Horton
There’s simply no place like a homestead for a growing youngster. It’s a giant classroom, where kids learn about responsibility and hard work. They also learn real-world skills, such as earth stewardship, how to care for living creatures, and the ins and outs of growing their own nutritious food. Kids delight in the little, everyday moments on the farm. While picking fresh berries, running in sunshine, and caring for resident animals, however, we want to ensure that little ones are safety-aware. Kids don’t always have the best judgment about how to handle new things. Fortunately, they’re usually willing to learn.
General Farm Safety
First off, you must actively work at making your homestead safer. Some things may be out of your control, but you can develop an eye for recognizing potential hazards. Do what you can to childproof as much as possible.
To safely integrate kids into the happenings of your homestead, start small. For example, involve them in caring for a flock of chickens. (Let them pick out one or two birds of their own. They’ll love it.) Other ideas include feeding a family pet, tending a garden, raising a butterfly cocoon, and making homemade ice cream. If it’s something they enjoy, it’ll fuel their motivation to help with other ventures.
Photo by Janet Horton
Teach children where your property’s boundary falls, where it’s safe for them to venture, and how to find their way home. Even the wooded “back acre” of our 5-acre place seemed forbidding when I was a youngster. I was glad to learn that the property was completely fenced in, so all I had to do was follow a fence back to the barn.
Eating wild edibles and berries, such as fresh blackberries, can be very appealing to children. It’s important to show kids the difference between edible and poisonous plants. Do a family walk-around of your property with a plant field guide. The kids will likely enjoy the experience; they may soon be teaching you about the plants on your homestead!
Wild animals, insects, and reptiles also arouse the curiosity of many kids. Together, study what can be handled safely, such as bugs and earthworms, and identify what needs to be left alone.
Being a small family farm, we’ve never had a lot of big machinery. However, I clearly remember going to a farm event and seeing a model demonstration of what would happen if a person got stuck in a grain bin. It’s stayed with me ever since. Whatever type of machinery you use on your homestead, go over it in detail with your children. Make sure they understand the dangers of incorrectly operating, playing on, or otherwise interacting with farm equipment.
You’ve probably seen the look of absolute delight on a young child’s face when they’re holding a new chick or petting a soft rabbit. You want to keep that wonder alive! So how do you integrate kids and animals while maintaining the safety of both?
Small animals. Small livestock, such as goats, rabbits, and chickens, are generally safe and manageable for kids. They make great “starter” animals for children, who can learn how to properly care for small creatures before taking on the responsibility of larger livestock.
- Always supervise young children when they’re holding an animal. Teaching your children to be gentle and quiet will go a long way toward a happy experience for all. (Supervised hand-washing afterward is also a good idea.) Small animals can sit still while being held one moment, and then suddenly go into a flailing frenzy the next. (Rabbits and baby goats are ideal examples.) Demonstrate how to stay alert to this. Show your kids the correct way to hold an animal safely to keep it as secure as possible.
- When hand-feeding animals of any size, kids should hold their hand out flat, with the feed on top, instead of cupping their hand. This will minimize unintentional nips.
- Teach your children not to roughhouse with animals of any size. Also, don’t let children teach young animals tricks that could be dangerous later on. It may be cute when the animal is little, but it’ll quickly grow into an ill-mannered adult.
Photo by Kim Carr
Large animals. We’ve had cattle on our farm nearly all my life, so I understand large animals can be unpredictable. However, I appreciate that my parents didn’t shield me from being around large livestock, but instead taught me how to interact with the animals in a safe and comfortable way.
- Supervise children when they interact with large animals. Teach them to be watchful, even when petting an animal through a barrier. A tame, friendly cow can whack your arm into a fence by playfully swinging its head.
- Teach children to approach a large animal from the front or side, where the animal can easily see them, to avoid startling.
- Teach children to move smoothly and talk quietly around all animals, large or small.
- Have a plan in place for what to do if your child is confronted by an animal. It’s essential that children know to get out of the way as soon as possible if a situation turns dangerous.
I urge you to take every opportunity to share the joy and beauty of farm life with children. By patiently promoting safety and fun, you’ll kindle a lifetime of enjoyment in their hearts. I’m grateful for my parents, and all parents, who’ve taken the time and effort to channel all that childhood energy into a priceless learning experience on the homestead. With every tomato seed you plant, every chick you nurture, and every sunset you enjoy together, you’re raising the next generation of responsible young people. And that’s worthy work, folks!
Photo by Janet Horton
Maggie Bullington writes from her family’s homestead in beautiful rural Alabama. She loves being in the garden and trying new farm projects.