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Safety meets productivity: My handy tips for when you have little ones in tow

Morgan Kliebenstein for Progressive Dairyman Published on 09 June 2017
baby carrier while working on farm

While raising young children in a farm environment is one of the most rewarding things about being a farm family, it also presents some challenges when it comes to staying productive while keeping the little ones safe when they’re in tow. Hopefully, I can share some of the tricks I use when I have Evelyn (3.5 years old) and Edith (16 months old) along for some outside fun and work.

1) Keep them contained

As they get older, this is not as big of an issue. For example, Evelyn has pretty much mastered the human language and understands commands like “Stay here with momma” or “Come hold my hand while the skidloader drives by.” However, continue to make sure that they know that passing machinery and vehicles are still dangerous and that they best keep out of the way by your side. Keeping babies contained is a whole different challenge in and of itself. They aren’t big enough to safely wander around the parlor or barn yet, and usually, they are falling in any number of holes, puddles, poop piles, etc.

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My personal favorite thing to use to keep Edith up and out of harm’s way is my backpack carrier. The one I use is Kelty Kids brand and probably cost me around $150. Sounds expensive, but it has been a lifesaver. Great for milking, sorting cows, feeding calves and walking around the farm, though manpasses are not an option when you’re wearing it. The best thing about carriers is that kids tend to love them; they like the high-up vantage point. And, if you can tolerate getting your ponytail pulled or Goldfish crackers going down the back of your shirt, they work great for keeping them up and out of the way. There are many brands of carriers out there; this one is sturdy, lightweight and has a built-in kickstand. When the babies get bored of the carrier or are too little for it, we hang a child’s swing in the parlor, which is usually a big hit.

Another common child containing device is the ever-reliable playpen, if you have a good spot for one. Our parlor is a pit parlor and our office area is where the compressors are located, so the playpen thing unfortunately never worked out for me since I didn’t want my kids to go deaf. I’ve also seen several impromptu playpens constructed out of hay bales at cattle shows – bonus points to those mommies.

If you’re used to pushing the milking cart up and down the alley in a tiestall barn, then you’ll be a big fan of the “barn stroller” concept. Buy a comfy used stroller from a garage sale or secondhand store, and let that be the dingy, dirty, smelly barn stroller that goes everywhere while keeping baby napping and out of harm’s way.

Lastly, when used safely, UTVs are your new best friend. Again, an old used car seat strapped in with the seat belt system works perfect here when you’re out and about checking fields or feeding calves. There’s something magical about UTVs that has a tendency to put my children right to sleep after just a 10-minute drive down to the pasture and back.

child watering heifers

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2) Keep them distracted

Have a stash of nonperishable snacks stashed in a mouse-proof container in the barn office and in the UTV. Chore time is usually when my kiddos need a snack, and a ziplock full of Goldfish and fruit snacks can buy a lot of time! We also have an apple tree out by our calf huts, and it’s a really big deal in the fall to be able to go up to the tree and pick out your own snack apple to eat. I really hope that tree lives for forever.

One of my friends had a really creative way to keep her little girls entertained in the barn during chores. She lets them put on “barn dress up clothes” and they happily prance around the barn playing princess.

If you’re not a cat person, but you’ve got small children, you need to get over your hatred for cats. Cats are lifesavers, people! Well, the ones that are too dumb to run away from the kids are anyway. Every little girl or boy that grows up on a farm starts their career out as “cat farmers,” and a nice healthy group of cats around the place is always adequate entertainment for the kids during milking time.

Another great thing to have around, though best if kept separate from the cats, is a sand pile. Many of us have a good deal of sand lying around, and nobody loves playing in it more than little kids. Throw a couple of old tractor toys in the pile, and they’re good to go.

One last thing that is probably the most important is giving them little jobs and responsibilities. Get them excited about taking an active role in what’s going on. We’re starting Evelyn with small jobs like watering and graining the show heifers, or picking up dropped cow towels in the parlor. As they get older, give them bigger jobs accordingly.

child bibbed overalls

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3) Keep them clean

Good luck; it’s never going to happen! Just kidding. While a certain level of dirt, poop and grit are to be expected when the kids are along outside, it’s nice to be able to keep it at a manageable level, just short of having to spray them off with the garden hose in the yard. Udder Tech (God bless them) makes child size waterproof milking bibs! At around $25 to $30, these have been an absolute lifesaver. I put Evelyn in them year-round. Buy them a size too big and throw them over the top of snow pants in the wintertime for some extra waterproofing and to save the knees of the snow pants. If your child does happen to fall in something icky, just spray them off and away they go!

Just like us adults, my kids have good clothes and barn clothes. Garage sales and secondhand stores are great for tracking down extra jeans, shirts, an extra pair of old insulated boots or a nice warm coat for the barn, even if your toddler says that it’s ugly and she’s never going to wear it.

Hopefully you found some handy new tricks to try with your kiddos outside. Be creative and use good judgement. You know your children and your own setup and what’s going to work best for you. Don’t let the bad days get you down; sometimes having the kids in tow outside can be one of the hardest things you do. But the rewards are boundless. Now get out there and enjoy your time together!  end mark

For even more farm-mom-approved safety tips, check out this blog from Heather Moore.

Morgan Kliebenstein is a dairy producer and a Genex sire analyst from Darlington, Wisconsin. Email Morgan Kliebenstein.

PHOTOS: Photos provided by Morgan Kliebenstein.

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