Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Our Kids, Our Way of Life

Saturday afternoon, my son and I checked the cows at our place. The Hereford cow had calved and we set forth to work her heifer calf. I caught the calf and held it while Isaac tagged it and gave the two shots we give newborn calves. All the while, the old Hereford cow nervously watched us, calling to her calf a couple of times to make sure things were OK.

We quickly finished with the calf and safely returned her to her mother. The pair ambled off into the sunset and Isaac and I watched. It was one of those great father/son moments, one of the best things about family farms and ranches. I love the fact that I get to work side-by-side with my family.

In addition to helping Jennifer at our place, the kids often spend weekend days with my father helping at his place. They are eager to spend the day with Grandpa and I am sure they will look upon the time spent with him as some of their fondest memories. I find they work harder for him and he has more patience for them. It’s a win/win situation for kids and parents alike.

However, the vaunted Department of Labor would take that away from us with proposed rule changes. These rule changes would not allow Isaac to help me tag calves. Why you ask? The Department of Labor deems working with mothers and newborns a task too dangerous for youth. They have also deemed any task involving tools powered by anything more than human power too dangerous also. Does that make any sense?

Farming and ranching has certain danger associated with many tasks, not the least of which is handling newborn babies and their mothers. We work hard to minimize risk, because we love our children, but we also realize that the danger is part of our business. If the cow in the earlier story had been one who had shown tendencies to be mean, I would have waited for Dad or Jennifer to help me. However, we cannot predict how animals will react and there is always danger associated with that.

Along with that danger, I also recognize the benefit of teaching my kids hard work and responsibility by having them work with us on the farm. I also recognize the benefits of my kids getting to work with their grandfather on a daily basis. The close relationship farm and ranch kids have with grandparents is something often lacking in our society and also something not easily understood by bureaucrats in Washington D.C.

I am sure their intentions are good. They have heard of the ”evils” of modern agriculture and corporate farms. I am also sure they are envisioning children forced to carry out terribly dangerous tasks, for long hours and in horrible conditions. They think they are crusading to save the children of corporate farms, either that or they are simply bureaucrats generating new rules because that is what they do.

However, those of us in agriculture know the truth. Farming and ranching is a highly rewarding way of life, where generations get to work side-by-side, Children learn the value of hard-work, honesty, dedication and responsibility by watching Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, Aunts and Uncles model those traits every day.

It is no surprise that many kids who grow up on farms and ranches decide to return each year. They see the rewards growing up in agriculture provides and they want that for their families. It is also no surprise that the children who don’t return the farm are in high demand by other employers. They understand how to work and take pride in a job well done, all traits that are hard to find these days.

Now the Department of Labor would take all of that away from us with their proposed rule changes. They think they know what is best for our children. While I appreciate their attempt at protecting my kids, I think I know what is best for them. I would never put my kids in harm’s way or give them a task that was too dangerous or one that they could not handle. I love them too much to do that.

What we must do, as an agricultural community, is to let our legislators know how we feel. We must also tell the Department of Labor what a mistake they are making. Those of us who grew up in agriculture must let them know how we benefitted by working each day with our family.

I truly believe that this has come about because of a lack of understanding. Many do not have a comprehension of what it means to work in a family business and fewer have a true understanding of agriculture. Those of us who understand the benefits of family and have farming and ranching in our blood clearly understand what is at stake, and it is not something I am willing to give up.

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