By Jennifer Whittaker, Editor for Georgia Farm Bureau News
Farm kids have tough guardian angels who wear jeans, helmets and steel-toe boots. The standard white robes, halos and sandals aren’t practical since farm kids are growing up around livestock, tractors and ATVs.
Farms are a terrific place to grow up, and it’s been my experience that farm parents make it a priority to teach their kids how to behave around livestock and to responsibly operate equipment at the appropriate age.
March 4-10, 2018 is Agricultural Safety Awareness Week. Use this week to sit down with your kids and review recommended safety procedures for operating ATVs and other equipment that they’re old enough to operate. Tell them how they should handle agitated livestock.
Let’s be honest, the most effective way to teach your kids the importance of wearing ear plugs around noisy equipment, wearing seatbelts or turning the PTO shaft off before you work on it...is by doing it.
Sometimes accidents happen no matter the precautions we take or that we know better. Growing up on my family’s dairy farm, some of my accidents were unavoidable, like the times in high school cows kicked me while I was milking. But if I’m honest, I could have avoided the two ATV accidents I survived. Coming out of each accident with minimal bruising and no broken bones was completely the grace of God.
My first ATV wreck happened in the spring of 10th grade. It was the end of the day, and Daddy trusted me to drive the ATV to the shed for the night. I’d done this simple task hundreds of times. It was a privilege because it was one of the few times I got to drive the ATV.
This time, I was in a hurry and my mind was elsewhere. It’s amazing how fast ATVs take off when you press the accelerator harder than you intend because you’re ready to call it a day. Suddenly, I was faced with the split-second decision of deciding whether the ATV was going to hit my dad’s truck or the cement wall of our dairy barn. I opted for the cement wall, thinking there would be less damage and I’d get in less trouble.
My dad ran to me faster than I’d ever seen him run. After determining I was okay, Daddy gave me a stern lecture about driving responsibly. He assured me he cared more about me being okay than the fact the ATV handle bars were bent. Daddy didn’t punish me. I guess he figured the embarrassment of going to school the next day with a swollen, bruised left ear would serve as a sufficient deterrent for driving recklessly on the ATV. It did, until a couple of years later.
Fast forward to a late summer afternoon when I found myself checking cows in our maternity pasture to see if any had calved. I usually drove the ATV down the hill and approached the wooden bridge that spanned the creek like a snail. But I was bored that day. To spice up my routine, I drove a little faster than I should have and failed to line up the ATV wheels with the bridge. You guessed it! I ended up in the creek underneath the ATV. The long walk back to the field where my dad and uncle were cutting silage gave me plenty of time to thank God I wasn’t hurt and to reflect on my stupidity.
I didn’t share these stories to glamorize teenage recklessness or to brag about beating the odds of being injured in an ATV accident. I shared the first story in hopes it will prevent other farm kids from riding an ATV without a helmet so they don’t end up with a bruised ear or worse if they hit a wall.
I hope my stories will remind farmers and their kids to stay focused on their tasks at all times. No matter how many times you’ve done something, the one time you don’t fully pay attention to what you’re doing could be the time you have an accident.
“No one can take your place” is the theme for this year’s Agricultural Safety Awareness Program. There couldn’t be a more appropriate theme. With farmers accounting for only one percent of the U.S. population, America is depending on every farmer we have to feed us. Take every safety precaution you know you should take. Farm angels are tough, but they can’t protect us against everything.