Keeping baby safe: Tips for farming with kids under 2

A girl and her livestock guardian animal. (Lyndsey Smith/RealAgriculture)

The joy of farming includes working from home — it’s a short commute, sometimes there’s a hot, mid-day meal (inexplicably referred to as dinner by many), and you get the chance to work with family, including many days being “bring your kids to work day.”

The trouble is, farms are also work sites, and dangerous ones at that. What’s more, I don’t know anyone who brings a toddler to work with them and says, “I am so much more productive today!”

As a mother to three, including one under one, we’ve adapted and evolved caring for our livestock while also keeping kids’ safety top-of-mind. It’s not easy — everything takes longer or ends up being a one-person task when it should be two, because someone needs to watch the kids. That said, my 11-month old is a master cat napper, as it’s rare that she gets a nap in an actual crib. Car seats and back-carry are pretty common in her day (she hates playpens and swings!), but there are still times when the work we’re doing just isn’t child friendly, no matter what apparatus we use.

My older kids know the ground rules, and we review them often: they know that if the tractor is working in the yard, they can only either be in it, or in the house (and one seat, one rider, so tractor rides do happen, but they’re rides, not daycare stand-ins). When we’re working with livestock, we go over the rules of what their job is (age-appropriate tasks) and what the safety rules are, i.e. where to stand, where not to walk, etc.

This week, I’m a little worn out. It’s the busy spring season of field work and lambing and taxes and work, and I’m a little discouraged trying to get everything done in a day, while also making sure everyone is safe, the baby eats and rests, and the kids aren’t covered in bug bites or a sunburn by the end of the day.

Like I often do when I’m frustrated, I turned to social media for ideas, inspiration, connection, and commiseration. And, as is often the case, you sure didn’t let me down. When asked how you get farm work done with little ones underfoot, the feedback was fantastic (follow this tweet for the entire thread, story continues below):

I was heartened to see so many families safely wearing their babies for certain tasks, and I loved learning about all the neat re-purposed items made into child-safe play yards and areas. It was also encouraging to hear so many recognizing that sometimes the safest place for your kids is not the farm site at all — instead making use of babysitters, community daycares, friends, and family when you can. Though, on that note, not all of us have parents still with us, and while I know people mean well, a “just drop them at grandma’s!” isn’t an option for everyone.

For what it’s worth, I’ve started researching daycare options (some are even subsidized, so check with your county) for when our youngest is old enough, and have also been doing some research into video monitors (we could use them in the lambing barn too!). We also have hired a summer student, as an extra set of hands and feet sure does go far in the busy season.

Ultimately, there are appropriate times when kids can and should be involved in farm work; there’s also the necessity of what simply has to happen in a day, and a helper or shipping the kids off isn’t always an option or financially feasible. For those times, please, be safe. Take the extra few minutes to buckle that baby in, or change the schedule so that the too-dangerous-for-littles tasks get done at a later time. Invest in some child-only safe play space, and (and this is the hardest one for me) don’t be too proud to ask for help.