Women in agriculture are exposed to the risk of injury every day. Whether you work full time, part time, are an employee or partner, women and girls on Alberta farms need to ensure they are protected from injury and disability. That starts by setting boundaries for ourselves.
A woman I’ll call Pat works in partnership with her husband on a large ranch. They do everything together, including the feeding, calving and pasturing of 1,500 cows. Pat has suffered several broken bones from horse accidents and although she is very fit, her aches and pains grab her at the most inopportune of times. Even though she’s just 37, her hospital rap sheet looks like a crash course in emergency care and that does not include the birthing of a raft of children.
I went with Pat and her husband on a chore run one winter morning. It was not fun. Everything was in high gear with little attention paid to the details. Under pressure to perform “her share,” she roared out of the yard at warp speed, dogs in hot pursuit.
At the gate, she screeched to a halt and sighed.
“That gate,” she said, “is so hard to open. It has been broken for years and when you tug on it the whole fenceline comes down.”
I was shocked. Fixing the gate post would take about a half-hour. Taking the collective time that she struggled with the gate annually, the whole ranch could have had new gate posts. But hubby, she said, would not spend the money to fix it.
My reaction was to ask hubby about the gate. Well, the proper latch would cost $129 and the ranch did not want to spend it. I inquired about the cull cow we just loaded — could the money not come from that? How about calculating the hours lost in dealing with the broken gate, did that not cover the repairs a hundred times over? How about the pup they just sold for $500 — would that not fix the post and put the proper latch on?
Pat needs to recognize her health and safety is jeopardized every morning when she does chores. It should not be about the ranch — it should be about the people who live on it.
From the Country Guide website:
A place for women
Setting the boundaries on what we will or will not do as a ranching partner or farm owner helps to put teeth into these situations. Creating a protocol in the business plan to immediately repair anything broken, treat anything sick or clean up any mess is important. Pat may have had input into the business plan as a business partner, but her role was not defined. So as the ranch physically fell apart, she did as well.
Think about this from the perspective of Pat’s children.
As adults we almost accept farm injury or stress injury as part of doing business. But the fragile world of the child only sees their parent being hurt or worse yet — going away. The younger they are, the less they can understand the timeline.
“Mommy will only be away for two weeks with that broken leg and then she will be home.”
Two weeks? Is that not an eternity to a child?
I recall my childhood and the regularity of farm accidents. Dad, the cat with 99 lives, has lived through gassing, poisoning, crushes, molesting, electrocution, gouging, trampling and major falls. He would spend some time recovering and then jump back into the game at full throttle — always shrugging it off.
But in his daughter’s eyes, these were times of fear and anxiety. A child can see that something needs fixing or when adults are headed for disaster. They feel helpless and unheard. I cried many tears and still today accidents happen. But I no longer have a fear or anxiety — that has been replaced by indifference and a quiet anger because I don’t feel that, because of the way he acts, he respects us.
And so I look at my own life and try to see it through my daughter’s eyes. How did she see the many times I was bucked off, bandaged up, operated on and hospitalized. Of course I knew that I would get better. But did she?
And how has that affected her respect for me? Did I teach her about boundaries or did I cross them all? Today, as illness still strikes me often from a lifetime of fatigue, is she scared or just simply angry?
As women on the farm we need to STOP (stop treating ourselves poorly) for the sake of our long-term health and to set examples about boundaries for our sons and daughters. Not only are our actions alarming, but our undue care and attention may jeopardize the very home, the sanctuary that we build for our children. We must clearly define our limitations and work with our partners to ensure that adequate help is available for the things that we cannot or should not do and build it into the business plan.
This allows our business partner the dignity of finding solutions and gives our children a sense of security. A farm is the people who live on it. May they enjoy long, happy, healthy lives.