Confluence Chronicles 4-16-12 |

Confluence Chronicles 4-16-12

Where did you learn your work ethic? For many readers of the Fence Post, the answer is on the farm or ranch. How old were you when you started working? You don’t remember? You just always did? That, my friends, is how country kids learn to work – by doing. Now that possibility is under fire from the U.S. Department of Labor which is working to update (notice I didn’t say improve), the laws that govern youth work in agriculture.

Dee Jepsen, program leader and assistant professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering said, “The Hazardous Occupations Order for Agriculture Employment hasn’t been touched for the past 40 years. What the hazardous occupations order for agriculture does is prohibit youth under the age of 16 from working in and around certain types of environments, outside of two basic exemptions.”

The first exemption is younger youth can work on a place owned and operated by their parents. So, if your family does custom farming, as ours does, only those over 16 years of age could work those fields. Even more alarming is the proposed changes to working with livestock. “They’ve expanded it that students cannot work with any animal husbandry practice – breeding, branding, dehorning or treating sick animals,” said Jepsen. “They are not allowed to catch chickens in preparation for market and they can’t herd animals in confined spaces, nor on horseback or using ATVs or other motorized vehicles.”

Let’s see. That cancels any possibility that young 4-H members can actually do the work for their animal projects. I guess they’ll have to be content with reading 4-H manuals and sitting on their duffs while their parents train the calves or sheep. Yep, that will teach them a solid work ethic.

Of course the idea is that youth should be protected from doing dangerous jobs. Yes, sometimes there are tragedies and it is sad, but unless we each have a bubble to live in, we always have some risk in life. We don’t need the government requiring those who are 14 and 15 to take the proposed and required 90 hour (one semester) safety class, which will only be allowed to be offered by secondary schools with agriculture programs. The days of the extension agent holding a training class will no longer be good enough under this law. Our county and the ones adjoining it include six high schools in three different states and not one of them has an ag program in the school. There again a large problem is caused by the people described herein: “Farming seems easy when your plow is a pencil and you are a thousand miles from the corn field.” ~ Dwight Eisenhower.

This doesn’t just affect rural kids. If you rely on your neighbor’s youngster who is under age 16 to mow your lawn or till your garden, you will be out of luck if they haven’t taken the course.

You can find it at!DocumentDetail;D=WHD-2011-0001-0001.

Peggy Sanders is a national award winning columnist from Oral, S.D., where her family farms at the foot of the Black Hills. She can be reached through

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