Narelle Henson: Of children, cows, and health and safety

How does a farmer toilet train 500 cows while extracting a food product at the same time?
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

How does a farmer toilet train 500 cows while extracting a food product at the same time?

OPINION: I don't know how farmers do it.

Survive, I mean. They have 500 cows and 120 hectares to keep an eye on, but I can't even keep one child and a few square metres of house safe.

In fact, with WorkSafe's ever-elongating fingers on the search for some new crime, I'm not sure how mothering is an allowed activity under New Zealand law any more, let alone farming.

This hit me as I was dashing from my toddler's bedroom – where I had just changed a nappy full of yellow "waste product" – to the kitchen, where I was in the tormented throes of attempting my first feijoa chutney.

I was too late for the chutney. The time it had taken to dispose of the waste product meant the food product was mildly burned. As I was stirring it and wondering how I could convince my future guests it was intentional, I remembered that I hadn't cleaned my hands.

At that point little man squawked, and I saw that he had climbed up my step ladder and was listing perilously to one side in an admirable, but fearless, attempt to reach the light switch. He got it, and the kitchen went dark, but not too dark for me to see him look sideways at me and grin. "No," he said sternly, telling himself off before I could get the chance.

I put him over near the actual toys, not the light switch toys, but he insisted on coming back into the kitchen and clinging desperately to my legs while the chutney boiled and bubbled inches from his innocent blond head.

I remembered, again, that I hadn't washed my hands and plonked little man on the counter next to me while I finally scrubbed them.

But, of course, by this stage I was acutely aware that the imaginary WorkSafe officer in my mind was shaking his head disapprovingly, and had been for quite a while.

"Hands washed after dealing with faecal matter? No. Hands cleaned before dealing with food product? No. All reasonable precautions taken to prevent injury when dealing with heights? No. All reasonable precautions taken to prevent injury around mercilessly hot, lava-like substances? No."

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I sighed, as my imaginary Worksafe officer told me that he would have to remove the toddler from my care and close down my mothering business because, quite simply, I was breaking too many laws.

Little man, thankfully, was still on the bench when I emerged from my conversation with the officer inside my head.

Just to soothe my fears, I decided to look up mothering on WorkSafe's website when little man went to sleep. I knew there were guidelines for farmers, but surely not for mothering, I thought.

I was wrong. So I perused the offending document, and discovered that faecal matter was indeed a risk for pregnant or new mothers. Not only that, my own child was a risk because he exposed me to it.

My guilt, I confess, was beginning to turn to confusion as I tried to work out who the real victim in our household was. Little man, or me?

That was when I began to wonder who the real victims were on our farms. Cows, or farmers? And how does a farmer toilet train 500 cows while extracting a food product at the same time?

Come to think of it, how does he survive the endless distractions that must be caused when 500 little calves get added into the mix? That's not even mentioning the electric fences and moving machinery.

And the red tape! If I couldn't follow all the guidelines for my one child, how could a farmer follow all the guidelines for 500 cows, which would no doubt be 500 times worse?

Truly, I thought, farmers are the real heroes.

 - Stuff

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