Will My Children Be Allowed to Work on Our Farm?

Kevin & the kids feeding calves (note - these are not milk cows)

Last week I traveled to Washington, DC to testify before the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade (Subcommittee of the House Committee on Small Business) on behalf of America’s farmers and ranchers about the Department of Labor’s proposed rules regarding Child Labor on farms and ranches.  The Department of Labor has proposed new rules that would restrict children under the age of 16 from working on a farm or ranch.  The list of tasks youth would not be allowed to do is astonishing to me.   For example, milking cows would not be allowed, and neither would building a fence.  One item that stood out to me was that no youth under the age of 16 would be allowed to use a tool that was powered by any source other than hand or foot power.  That would eliminate youth using flashlights, garden hoses (because hoses are powered by water) battery operated screwdrivers, etc.  When hearing this, my son asked me if that meant he no longer had to brush his teeth since his toothbrush was battery operated.  (Nice try Conner, you still have to brush your teeth and yes, you will use the battery powered toothbrush I bought you!) 

 The work my children willingly do on our farm is a valuable life lesson they can’t learn from reading a book in school or playing a video game.  It’s something they enjoy doing too. 

Kevin helping Conner close and secure the gates.

It is not dangerous; we don’t allow our children to do tasks that are not safe or not age appropriate.  Working beside our children is precious to Kevin and I, it builds memories we will all treasure forever and it’s about passing on our farming heritage to the next generation.  More importantly, it teaches our children that hard work is rewarded, that doing a job well is something to be proud of and it builds self esteem. 

Our daughter learned at the age of 3 ½ how to use a bolt, washer and nut to help build farrowing stalls for our hog barns.  She did this along side her dad in our machine shed.  She was never in danger, and the smile it brought to her face because she was helping dad farm was priceless.  The lessons she learned that day have taken her far.  She learned to never give up when she was turning the nut the wrong direction.  She learned to follow directions – the washer had to go on the bolt before the nut and if she forgot, she had to start over because the nut wouldn’t fit securely without the washer.  When she and Kevin had finished building the stalls, she was so proud.  She couldn’t wait to show me her work.  She showed every neighbor who stopped by the shed her work.  And each time she went inside the hog barns, she would proudly proclaim, “I helped dad build this.”  Since that day Rachelle has learned to do several other tasks on our farm.  And each task has taught her that determination is the key to success and that hard work pays off. 

To have the Department of Labor (DOL) think my child’s safety isn’t a priority to me is frustrating to say the least.  I love my children more than anything in this world; I would never put them in harm’s way.  I went to Washington, D.C. last week because farmers and ranchers need the DOL to understand they can not regulate with a one size fits all policy.  I left all of my work behind because I want to secure my children’s future on our family farm and to protect their freedom to farm. 

I want my children to be able to choose if they want to return to our family farm one day after they finish their education.  If our children are not allowed to work on our farm as they grow up, they will lose out on many lessons and skills, not to mention they will be robbed of the childhood my husband and I loved when we grew up.  Besides, how will our kids know if they want to come back to the farm if they are only allowed to work on it for two years before they leave for college?  I appreciate DOL’s intentions to keep children safe, but as a parent, no one cares more than I do about my children’s safety.  I’ve been protecting my kids since I carried them in my womb and I will continue to protect them, even if it means testifying before Congress to protect their freedom to grow up working on our family farm.   

Filed under: agchat, agriculture, family, Farm Bureau, government Tagged: Child Labor, Department of Labor, DOL, farm, farmers, Freedom, kids, Protecting, ranchers, regulations, rules, tools, work, Work Ethic

11 comments for “Will My Children Be Allowed to Work on Our Farm?

  1. Jenny
    February 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm


    Thank you for taking time to travel to Washington, D.C. and testifying!! Great post!

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    • Chris Chinn
      February 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm

      Thank you for reading it Jenny. 

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  2. Danidogtrainer
    February 12, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    I am not part of the farming community – I had no idea this was going on. You should bring this out into the public eye – I bet a lot of people would be as outraged as I am. That is absolutely ridiculous! 

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  3. Trinnade
    February 13, 2012 at 11:55 am

    I typed this up before I ran across your article. Sometimes we just have to scratch our heads and wonder what in the world they are thinking up there in Washington…. I agree 100% with your article. Keep up the good work. Thought I would go ahead and add my 2 cents.

    I’m trying to work on a short video about how this new proposed farm child labor
    law could/would affect our kids and their futures on the farm. I’m curious to
    know how you all feel this would directly affect your families. Comments…

        My personal opinion is that these
    kids are a different breed. They have been raised to respect their surroundings
    and to make good choices.

        As a mother of 3 farm boys, I can
    HONESTLY say that each child is different and just because my 14 year old has
    been driving tractors since he was 9ish does not mean that I am going to put my
    2nd child, a 10 year old, in the driver seat anytime soon. Not because I
    wouldn’t love for him to be out there, but because he is certainly NOT READY
    and quite honestly, may not be for a long time. It just doesn’t seem to be his
    “thing” and if he doesn’t respect it, it’s not safe for him to be
    there. I’m pretty sure the baby, 7 year old, will be helping before his
    brother, but he has the same passion for farming as his oldest brother does.

        We don’t put our children in
    harms way, nor would we danger the lives of others. I can honestly say that I
    would rather meet my 14 year old driving a tractor down the road than someone
    whom I had to hire, just because he was old enough to drive the dang thing. My
    child knows first-hand from years of experience what works and what doesn’t
    when handling that big equipment. Joe Blow from town may be able to drive a
    straight line, but that’s not even the half of it.

       I also feel like this is the government
    wanting our kids to sit on their butts till they are 18 and then b-and moan
    about how our youth doesn’t do a dang thing. COME ON! They don’t even want them
    to be within so many feet of an animal. I understand bad things happen, and it
    is our biggest fear as parents, but lots bad things happen to so many more
    children just walking the streets with NOTHING to do but get into trouble. Idle
    hands are the devils handy work! Can I get an Amen? 

        And with the world population
    growing at such an alarming rate, this next generation of farm kids are going
    to have a big enough challenge trying to figure out how to produce enough food
    and fiber to feed and clothe us all. I sat in on a meeting last night that
    said, “In the next 40 years, we as farmers are going have to find a way to
    increase our production by 70% in order to even make it work.

    (70%!!!!)In the year 2050 we will have to raise as many crops in that one
    year as we have in the history of Ag to date just to produce enough food to
    feed everyone.” Can you imagine what that is going to in tale?

     These kids need a jump start. They
    need to be learning, plant and animal disease, pest control, animal husbandry,
    conservation, and good farming practices NOW, even if they are just 14 years old!
    I’m sorry, but you can’t learn how to be a farmer from a school book. It’s a
    hands on knowledge that you can only learn by doing. Text books only get you so
    far, and we all know things don’t always go by the books. I’m not dissing Ag Ed
    at all, (yahoo did a great job of that. Boo yahoo!) But they need to see it
    work to understand it.

       I do understand that equipment is
    MUCH bigger than it was 50 years ago, but I would also argue that it is WAY
    safer than it was 50 years ago. We don’t NEED our kids to work on the farm, we
    could still make it work without them, but we WANT our kids to work on the farm
    to learn life lessons and get a good work ethic, to be contributing members of society.
    We want to work side by side with our children because it brings joy to our hearts
    to be able to share our goals, dreams, and drive with them as well as teaching
    them a skills that benefits the whole world!

      Yes, sometimes we DO need them, but
    we don’t expect them to do things they are not comfortable with, or confident
    they can’t handle. Sometimes we need someone to drive seed to the field, or
    work ground, or sit at the end of the field with a pallet of seed so we can
    fill the planters, feed cows, water animals and move equipment around. It would
    be a little bit of a pain in the butt to hire someone for 30mins of work to
    move tractors on a Sunday. These kids are a very vital part of our operations,
    and we value them.

       These kids don’t work hard because
    they have to, they work hard because they want to! I’m sure there are some farmers
    out there that maybe make their children do some questionable things, but let’s
    face it, law or no law, those people will continue to do what they are doing regardless
    of what anyone else says.

      That pretty much wraps up my
    “can’t sleep rant” and I know it kinda jumps back and forth, and the
    spelling and punctuation are pretty sad, but it is 4:30 in the morning!

      Honestly, I am curious to hear what
    you have to say. This argument is pretty much one-sided, so I am looking
    forward to hearing points from both sides of the fence. Just try to not get
    super upset and post harsh things if you are giving an opinion from the other
    side. I do value your opinion, as I hope that you can respectfully value mine.

    Thanks for your time! Happy posting!

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  4. Reid Maki
    February 14, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    This article is full of lies. DOL proposed these rules with a “parental exemption” so that any child working on their parents’ farm would be exempt from coverage. Let me repeat, any child can do any job, no matter how dangerous, on their parents’ farm! Mrs. Chinn knows this but she can fool a lot of people who have not read the rule into believing her if she misstates the scope of the rule, which prohibits kids from engaging in hazardous work when they are working for wages. Among the other lies in this article: the rules would prohibit building fences or using flashlights or hoses. The argument that parents alone can protect children on farms ignores the fact that 100-plus kids a year die on farms. Mrs. Chinn’s testimony may help scuttle the DOL child safety rules. Fifty to 100 children will die in the next decade if that happens, and Mrs. Chinn, because of her testimony,  will share some of the blame for that.

    –Reid Maki, Child Labor Coalition

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    • Jeff Fowle
      February 14, 2012 at 7:52 pm



      all due respect, Mrs. Chinn’s testimony is very accurate, based upon what we
      have seen in writing from the DOL. Yes, they are planning on releasing another
      draft for comment, but none of us have seen that. If your comments above are
      based on the proposed re-release, which the public has not seen, I would like
      to know how you were able to do so.


      to the issues you call into question, I would encourage you to re-read the
      proposed rules again.


      you are not familiar with rural relationships. Farmers and ranchers are one big
      family, ignoring what the last names are. It is common practice to share
      labor to get work done, especially when weather threatens and during the bustle
      of harvest season and in the spring and fall when cattle need to be worked to
      get out to pasture, up to the range or in for the winter. . I love my neighbor’s
      children as my own and he mine. They are our lifeblood and future of our farms
      and ranches. Their safety is first and foremost in all of our minds and hearts.

      children are just as valuable to us a grownup and often times, have greater
      skills and abilities to offer on many tasks. In fact, their involvement
      decreases the chances of injuries even occurring


      Fencing: H.O. #6 prohibits youth under
      age 16 from working in “occupations involving work in construction.”  The
      proposed H.O. explicitly states that such restrictions “will be applied in the
      same manner as in 29 CFR 570.33(n).” In addition, the Secretary of Labor
      has declared that  ‘If a task is not specifically permitted, it is
      prohibited.’”  Therefore, unless the Secretary specifically permits the
      construction fences, it is prohibited. In other words, my son cannot help me,
      his grandparents or our neighbors in the building or repair of fences, carrying
      wire, hammering staples, etc. 

      and Hoses: H.O. #2 specifically prohibits occupations involving the
      operation of power-driven equipment.  The proposal (page 54857 in the
      Federal Register) states “Equipment operated by any source of energy, such as
      wind, electricity, fossil fuels, batteries, animals, or water, would all be
      considered ‘power-driven’….  Since a hose is under water pressure which is
      defined in the rule as power-driven, the department has prohibited youth under
      the age of 16 from being employed in occupations that require the use of hoses.
      In other words, my son could not use our pressure washer to clean livestock
      trailers, trucks, tractors and equipment, for me, his grandparents, our
      neighbors or the fellow who we help with custom farming.


      would also encourage you to take a look at a post that I wrote several weeks
      ago on this very issue. http://commonsenseagriculture.com/2011/10/07/dol-department-opposed-to-labor-strikes-again/

      Jeff Fowle
      Farmer & Rancher

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    • Elaine Beekman
      February 15, 2012 at 12:59 am

      I have a cooperative program where students in FFA or 4-H clubs can come out to my farm and work in exchange for feed and housing of their animals or on a volunteer basis and as I understood the rules from DOL, the educational program exemption would be eliminated, too. That means my educational program would be illegal. It’s not just kids working for wages who would affected.

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    • February 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm

      Many people have voiced a correct assessment of farm life
      and why it is so important. City dwellers such as yourself should never be
      involved in a law where you have no idea what you are talking about. I do not
      need to repeat what we all know about children, responsibilities, common sense
      and the problems associated with the lack of it.

      Your only argument seems to be with tragic accidents that
      happen in life. To put that in perspective perhaps you should investigate;

      Children that drown every year in the family swimming

      Children that get ran over in their own driveway

      Children that are killed in car accidents

      Children’s minds that are harmed by Video game
      and television

      Children who suffer the health problems of obesity
      because of the lack of exercise   


      I could go on and on but, I will take all the positive
      aspects of farm/ranch life!

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  5. Reid Maki
    February 16, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    I would like to apologize to Mrs. Chinn if my earlier comments questioned her integrity. I’m sure she loves her children and seeks nothing more than their protection. I also used harsh language to describe what I perceive as inaccuracies and misleading arguments in her blog. I wish to question the content of the blog but not Mrs. Chinn’s integrity.

    I do believe that the final rules implemented by DOL will expand the current parental exemption and be much more palatable to the farm community.  I also believe that DOL will make it clear that they will not ban flashlights and other non-hazardous equipment.  There may be some some inconvenience to farmers if these rules are implemented, but the trade-off is that the farm community will see more children survive to adulthood unscathed–more children who are able to take over the family farm. 

    Currently, you have to be 18 to perform hazardous work in America–unless you work on a farm.  You have to be 14 and older to hold most jobs in American–unless you work in agriculture. Agriculture enjoys wide and pervasive exemptions to child labor and child safety laws. For this reason, the federal government has a responsibility to protect workers  15 and under who are employed on farms and performing dangerous tasks. There will still be a wide range of safe jobs for child employees to perform beginning at the age of 12. And as I noted previously, any child working on their parents’ farm can do any job at any age. So many of the fears expressed in Mrs. Chinn’s blog about her own children being prevented from performing work on her own farm are unfounded.It seems undeniable to me that DOL’s agricultural child safety rules will save lives and prevent many serious injuries.Reid Maki,Child Labor Coalition

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  6. Susan
    February 17, 2012 at 1:14 am

    It teaches the value of a dollar and  a hard day’s work. It’s where parents are always nearby, and the problems of the world often seem far away. And though a farm may not always be a perfect place, very few others come as close!  (I took this saying out of a farm magizine years ago, and it says it all)…..I would not trade one moment of life on a farm :)  I loved raising my children on the farm!!!  Very many wonderful memories!

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