Most children love visits to farms and seeing animals in their natural habitat can be a very educational experience. But while the majority of visits to farms will be problem-free, the very nature of them means that there are various dangers and safety issues to be aware of.
According to the Transport and General Workers Union, 46 children under the age of 18 have died from farm accidents in the UK in the last 11 years. Farms are work places, with lots of activities going on, and there are various potential dangers – tractors, heavy machinery, manure, slurry and, of course, the animals themselves.
Children are naturally inquisitive and enjoy exploring and learning new things, but it is important that any visits to farms are carried out with care. If you’re going to a farm that opens to the public, then they should already be geared up to safety issues, but there’s certainly no harm in you having the knowledge and know-how, too.
Before Visiting a Farm
Before you visit a farm, it’s worth chatting to your children about what will be involved, especially if this is their first time. Tell them about the different types of animals they might see, such as sheep, cows, goats, chicken, pigs and geese, the machinery that may be around, and how they should behave. In particular, points to remember include:
- Animals deserve proper respect and care – mostly they will be safe, but they’re often nervous of humans, and any sudden movements may startle and frighten them.
- A farm is working environment – don’t touch any machinery or go off exploring on your own.
- There could be germs around, so avoid putting your fingers in your mouth or eating anything you find on a farm.
Safety at the Farm
Farms harbour all sorts of germs, including E.coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter, which can cause symptoms such as sickness, diarrhoea, stomach pains and fever in children. They’re found in dung and animal droppings and the risk is increased if children come in contact with the bugs, but accidentally forget to wash their hands or put their fingers in their mouths with unclean hands.
With lots to see and do, it’s easy for children to become distracted and forget all the wise words you told them before the visit! But the following safety points should be emphasised:
- Don’t let children put anything in their mouths – including their fingers.
- Don’t eat or drink on the farm, or only in areas that are designed for picnics.
- Don’t let children pick up and eat anything that’s fallen on the ground, such as apples or other fruit.
- Don’t touch manure or slurry.
- Don’t drink raw unpasteurised milk.
- Don’t try eating any animal food!
- Don’t drink water from taps, unless they’re marked as being okay for drinking from.
Farms that open especially to let the public get close to and watch animals often allow contact, so you’re able to touch or feed animals. Animals don’t normally bite or peck, but it is important not to frighten or annoy them, as that’s when they may be tempted to lash out. This is especially so if they’ve got young animals with them, as they’ll be keen to protect them. Instead, it’s best to be quiet, gentle and slow and clearly follow any instructions provided to you.
General points to remember about animal safety and hygiene include:
- Avoid kissing animals! Children often have the urge, but animals may have dried faeces or urine on their skin.
- Don’t let children chase after animals.
- Wash hands after touching animals.
- Avoid making sudden movements.
- Approach animals from the front, so that they can see what you’re doing.
- Don’t shout, scream or run around animals.
- Don’t be afraid to touch animals, just make sure you do so with care.