One of the nicest things about having a lifestyle farm is that we can keep a few pets and friendly farm animals, and most of us know quite a few youngsters who love to visit them.
Why not throw the net wider and invite more children to share the pleasures of being with trusting friendly farm animals? Bringing young visitors onto our farms gives us a great opportunity to teach the kids about the realities of farming animals and the need to take good care of them. We can use these visits to encourage empathy in young people towards animals and towards all living things in general!
All children should be realistic about livestock farming
Many children from the towns and cities grow up knowing little about where their meat, wool, milk and eggs come from. On our farms we can teach kids that while we use our animals to provide these things, we treat the animals well because we are genuinely fond of them. The other very good reason for treating them well is that, as even the most unsentimental farmer knows, for farming to be productive the animals have to be healthy and content.
We can teach children to encourage animals to come to us for patting (not for food) and to be quiet and calm when we are with them. Keeping low encourages stock to come forward, and sitting quietly for a while (very difficult when you are excited!!) lets the children watch the animals interacting with each other.
Always, we need to put safety first! It's obviously important to pick quiet well-handled livestock for close contact with visitors, but even they can kick or bite unexpectedly if they get a sudden fright.
We should encourage our animals to come to us for patting and grooming rather than for food rewards. Biting is particularly likely if owners rely on titbits to entice the animals forward. This can lead to livestock, particularly ponies, snatching at the food and bullying each other to get at it, and that's not a good experience for the children.
Children should be taught about the sharp biting end and the blunt kicking end of horses, ponies and donkeys, the sideways and backwards kicking of cattle, the head butting of all stock, and the standing on feet! It's all too easy for accidents to happen, particularly when the sudden movements and squeals of excitement from excited young visitors can make even the quietest farm pets edgy.
There are some diseases that can spread from farm animals to humans, and children are particularly at risk. The animals most likely to spread disease are those that show signs of ill-health, for example, animals with:
- diarrhoea (salmonellosis, colibacillosis etc)
- signs of recent abortion (yersiniosis, salmonellosis etc)
- sores round their mouth (scabby mouth)
- hairless crusty skin lesions (ringworm, mange)
- blood-stained urine (leptospirosis)
Take particular care with hand-reared animals that have diarrhoea.
The main precaution for those handling farm animals is to avoid putting anything near their mouth that has been directly or indirectly in contact with the animals. Clothing, boots and utensils can also be contaminated. Most people know to wash their hands before eating, but they should also wash hands before smoking ….. or biting their nails!.
Spread the net
If you are interested in inviting more young visitors to your farm, you could contact your local primary and intermediate schools, your regional SPCA and children's community groups. Then you can look forward to giving some town youngsters an experience they won't forget…. and you might even enjoy it too.