Farm safety advice from women on ag operations

markie hageman


Farm safety is always on our minds, but during spring planting and fall harvest, farm groups make extra efforts to raise awareness about the dangers farmers face. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries. They have estimated about 100 farm-related injuries per day and reported 417 deaths in 2016.

With women playing an even bigger role in the agricultural industry, over 36 percent according to USDA, it’s important to discuss safety issues and suggest ideas to keep women safe on the farm. As many of us are aware, there are plenty of risk factors when on the farm, especially alone. Here is a list of those risks and the safety precautions to take:

Heavy Machinery Safety

Most of the farm-related deaths are caused by tractor overturns. This risk is high, and it’s one that shouldn’t be ignored. I remember having to haul large round hay bales down to our cow pasture last year while no one was at home. I hadn’t operated this particular tractor before. My mom demanded that I ask our neighbor to do the chore, but my stubbornness was determined to get it done myself. Our tractor was basically a run-down Kubota that I had to jump-start multiple times just to get it to the pasture and back. The roads weren’t ideal and the pasture was muddy. While I was able to handle the task, I do realize that having someone aware of the situation would have made it safer, and I don’t think I took the risk very seriously. It wasn’t until that summer, when a local woman was killed in a tractor overturn accident, that I really considered the dangers of operating this common machine.

While operating heavy equipment is part of our job, and it’s unrealistic and undesirable to ask someone else to do the job for us, we are putting ourselves in danger each time we operate large machinery. Thankfully, there are measures to take to prevent injury and death.

The CDC suggests adding seatbelts to tractors as part of their Roll-Over Protective Structure (ROPS) program. Additionally, they offer the CROPS (Cost-effective Roll-Over Protective Structure) program. Also, be sure you are aware of how to operate the machine you’re handling. Knowing all its functions, how to fix minor issues, and knowing when to stop and call someone for help are basic safety protocols. Added to this, you should always wear appropriate clothing. No loose items, and have well-fitted leather gloves, eye protection, boots, and tied-up hair.

The most important thing to note in this section is when asked about farm-safety measures on social media, most women who answered never once brought up preventive measures to take for heavy-equipment operation, even when prompted. The most relevant topic was concerning attackers, followed by handling livestock. This demonstrates, personally, how women aren’t considering the dangers of operating large machines alone on the farm.

On-Farm Attacks

Sometimes, we have to run the farm alone while family, husbands, etc., are gone. Considering the number of farms that are located in remote areas, some of us are even more alone than others who have close neighbors. While you may feel safe, it is important to always be cautious of potential trespassers who could harm you.

Most women suggest carrying a gun. This was the most popular suggestion on my social media poll. However, if you’re like me, you might be a bit gun shy. I don’t mind operating guns, but I prefer not to. I also don’t feel comfortable carrying one with me. Perhaps that’s a fear I need to get over, but there’s no shame in wanting to find other ways to protect yourself. One of those ways that I find the best is a pocket knife. This was the second most common suggestion for women, especially those who don’t always carry a gun. Make sure it is easily accessible, because we know a gun allows for distance between you and an attacker, but a pocket knife doesn’t offer the same protections. One of my friends suggested keeping your car keys next to your bedside, in the event you hear something, setting your alarm off might scare the person or animal away.

A friend of mine has a “strike-stick” that attaches to her keychain and has a dull, but somewhat pointed, end. This is long enough for her hand to wrap around it and would allow her to pretty violently jab an attacker, should she ever be in that situation. Pepper spray and tasers are great options as well and allows for some distance between you and your attacker. Don’t be afraid to get creative, though; my grandma once gifted me wasp spray, which shoots 20 feet. Other women suggested using hay hooks. 

Other suggestions were to have a dog, which, did we really need more reasons to have a dog? Of course not. Finding a perfect guard dog can be difficult, though, so make sure you aren’t like me, where your border collie is best friends with everyone and your old, tiny mutt has more bark than bite. Many shelters won’t adopt a dog to you if your primary reason for wanting one is for protection, so be sure that there’s also a genuine companionship reason for wanting such an animal.

There are many ways to protect ourselves, but some of the basics include: always be sure to lock doors (in my house, we have a small door-edge device that sounds a very loud alarm if anyone gets through our door; this was relatively cheap and is comforting when home alone), maybe install a security camera, always carry your cell phone, have motion sensor lights, and ensure all escape routes are clear, should anyone attempt to break into your house. Let a friend or closest neighbor know your routine so they know when to check in on you. Be aware of your surroundings, how your animals are acting and always show a major attitude whenever you feel threatened.

Livestock Handling

Many of us work cattle, ride horses, feed, doctor, and do many other things around the farm that require animal handling. While it’s best to never work alone, there might come a time when you don’t have any other options.

When working cattle, or aggressive livestock, a hot shot is a great tool to keep them out of your space. This also doubles as a device for attackers on the farm as well. Whips and long flags can be great tools as well. Be sure to keep that pocket knife handy, you never know when you, or your animals, will get tied up. Dogs also come handy here, as they can help you keep animals at bay while you’re working on something else. Perhaps, even a handy horse or mule that can block angry momma cows from you while you doctor their calf?

Know when you shouldn’t handle your livestock alone, but if there is an instance this is unavoidable, use your best judgment and some of the aforementioned suggestions. Know your quickest exit route and always be aware of that bull in the pasture — even if it’s docile.

Common-sense knowledge is going to be your best defense. Know when to handle your equipment and livestock. Know your surroundings. Know when to ask for help. We are capable of doing the jobs, but we are also at risk of the dangers.


Markie Hageman majored in agribusiness at Fort Hays State University. She is actively involved in her state Cattlemen’s Association, Young Farmers chapter, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Her articles can be found here.

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