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Play it safe on the farm

The dream of many young farm boys and girls is to ride on a tractor. For a youngster, the mammoth tractor epitomizes raw power, responsibility and coming of age.

Nothing is more exciting to farm kids than the belch of diesel smoke, the roar of engines and rubber wheels on powerful tractors, combines or silage cutters. They draw children like a moth to a flame and, like fire, can be dangerous. Such equipment can cut, crush or trap children. It can harm the ones we want to protect the most -- our children.

Soon, children will be home from school and the chance of farm accidents will be greater.

During the summer months, never invite children to ride in the tractor, says Holly Higgins, Kansas Farm Bureau safety director.

"Stress that your youngsters must stay away from machinery," Higgins says. "Never let them play or hide under or around machinery like tractors."

Farms offer children a unique environment to live, play, work and grow up. As a child, I can remember tossing a lasso around the grain auger and climbing into the grain bin of our combine. As a five-year-old, this giant silver machine symbolized for me the far away Rocky Mountains and I was scaling their peaks like my legendary hero, Jim Bridger.

Safety experts label agriculture one of the most hazardous occupations, and farm children are routinely exposed to the same hazards as their parents. Each year, hundreds of children are killed, and thousands more are injured in farm-related incidents, according to National Safety Council statistics.

Education and awareness are the key ingredients to help make the farm a safer place for children to play, Higgins says. Brushing up on some of the potential hazards can also make it safer for parents.

Describe to children how horses can be fun to ride -- with a helmet. Talk about how lambs and baby calves can be pleasurable to pet or feed.

"Remind them that while animals are fun to be around they can also bite, trample and stomp," Higgins says.

Discuss with your youngsters the signs that show an animal may be dangerous. Some of them include pawing the ground, snorting, raised hair and ears laid back.

Animals -- even friendly ones -- can be unpredictable. Have your children stay away from large ones. Emphasize they stay away from animals with newborn or young. Tell them to remain calm, speak quietly and move slowly when around animals.

While barns, grain handling facilities and big buildings can be fun to play in, falls can occur or children could be exposed to harmful substances like chemicals and electricity.

Wide-open spaces also provide children with ideal playgrounds, Higgins notes. However, this isolation also might lead to difficulty finding help in the event of an emergency.

Explain the dangers associated with stored grain. Stress the principles that grain can entrap a person almost immediately. Children should never play around, or in grain that is stored in bins, trucks or wagons. Emphasize that it is difficult, or can be impossible, to pull even a child out of grain if he/she becomes trapped.

Remember, it is important that youngsters have a safe place to play. Ask them to identify safe play areas. Talk about areas away from farm machinery, animals, manure pits and silos. Carefully define safe boundaries. Let children know where they can and cannot play.

Make sure your children have a fun, but safe summer on the farm.

A Hoxie native, John Schlageck writes for the Kansas Farm Bureau.