by Jesse Bussard
As a kid I enjoyed many a summer working side by side with my grandfather on the farm. Through his guidance I developed an appreciation for livestock and agriculture and a strong work ethic. My parents weren’t able to afford a farm of our own until I was older, so it was up to my grandfather to give me the farm experience I so loved and needed. I continue to value every minute of those experiences and hope that one day I can do the same for my own children.
The Department of Labor (DOL) recently proposed new child labor regulations that would put a stop to memories like mine and have serious implications for the future of agriculture’s youth. The proposed rule, which just closed for comment on December 1st, would place new limits on the work of “hired farm workers” under the age of 16, and in some cases 18. These new rules have the potential to impact many horse farms, ranches, and auctions that employ young people to work with horses or other livestock. One exemption in the rule applies to young people working on farms and ranches owned or operated by their parents.
The current law prohibits youth under age 16 from working in most occupations. However, the Fair Labors Standard Act of 1938, the basis for all child labor laws, allows for exemption of youth under age 16 to work on farms and ranches. This exemption was originally put in place because of the integral role that many youth play on the farm.
Under the proposed rules, activities such as running a lawnmower, clipping a show steer, or putting up hay bales for the neighbor would be out of the question. The DOL even goes on to state that youth under age 16 lack the ‘cognitive ability’ to herd animals on horseback. I don’t know about you, but I know some farm kids that have more sense about running equipment and handling stock than some on-rural folks have driving on our nation’s highways.
Animal husbandry practices such as branding, breeding, dehorning, vaccinations, castration, and even treating sick or injured animals would also be off limits for youth. This includes horses, with a special emphasis on breeding stallions. Basically DOL believes that working around livestock is too dangerous for anyone under 16. Sadly, this could great impact our nation’s 4-H and FFA programs as well as numerous equine programs?
Though the proposed rules only applied to hired, paid young workers, the issue of parental exemption isn’t so clean cut. If farms and ranches are owned as a partnership, even with other family members, or operated as a LLC, the parent exemption is not applicable.
The DOL clearly lacks an understanding of the reality of the traditions of agriculture. If these new rules become law many youth will be denied the opportunity to develop the sense of personal responsibility and work ethic that many of us in older generations can attribute to the experiences we gained working on farms and ranches as a kid.
The fact is DOL is inconsiderate of the value that these experiences hold for our youth. Let’s hope that DOL will take the many comments submitted by those involved in agriculture to heart and not allow these proposed rules to see the light of day.