Children’s Injuries on Beef Cattle Farms

With more than 70,000 family-owned and operated farms in the state, many Kentucky children are active participants in farm labor operations. Research has suggested that children who reside on farms with livestock may be at an increased risk for work-related injuries compared to children who work on other commodity farms, such as those growing tobacco or grain. The primary purpose of this 3-year longitudinal study was to characterize children’s work tasks on beef cattle farms, to identify the characteristics that predict the amount of time children work at these tasks, to determine whether beef cattle farms are more labor intensive for child workers, and to assess whether children who work on these farms are at increased risk for farm work injuries. In addition, research on farm management practices was undertaken to better understand animal handling procedures and work practices on Kentucky beef cattle farms.

Led by Dr. Steven R. Browning, this study built upon baseline data collected in 1994/1995 on a cohort of children (N=999) living on family farms in 60 Kentucky counties. The first major component of the research was a longitudinal study of a fixed cohort of children age 5 to 18 years who were first enumerated at baseline as part of the Kentucky Farm Family Health and Hazard Surveillance Project (Browning, Truszczynska, et al., 1998). This component was known as the Farm Child Health Study and consisted primarily of two telephone surveys, one year apart (N1=299, N2=242). The second major component of the research was the development, pilot testing, and implementation of the Farm Management Survey. This survey was pilot tested among beef farms (N=112) from the cohort in the Farm Child Health Study and was followed by full-scale data collection among a cohort of members of the Kentucky Cattleman’s Association (KCA Survey), yielding 1,226 completed questionnaires.

The researchers found that across all age groups, children on beef cattle farms devote a greater number of hours per week to farm work compared to children living on other commodity farms, especially during the school year. Children who worked on farms with greater than 40 head of beef cattle performed more hours of farm work per week (adjusted difference = 2.3 hours per week; SE=1.4) compared to children living on farms with less than 40 cattle (adjusted difference = 1.8; SE=1.3) or other commodity farms (referent). These children also participate in tasks that place them in direct contact with cattle, which accounts for the contribution of animal-related injuries to their total injury burden. Among children living on beef cattle farms who did farm work, 51% (95% CI: 0.43-0.58) participated in loading and unloading cattle, 40% (95% CI: 0.32-0.48) treated cattle with medications or secured ear tags, and 23% (95% CI: 0.16-0.29) worked in a yard with a bull.

There were 46 farm work injuries reported in the cohort of children over the study period. The leading cause of injury was contact with a foreign object (e.g. injuries to the eyes from rocks, sticks, and hay; and injuries to the extremities from hand tools and barbed wire). Machinery-related injuries were the second most frequent cause of injury; i.e., fractures and contusions from all terrain vehicles (ATVs) and tractor crashes, and cuts from using hitching equipment and hand tools. Boys were nearly four times (OR= 3.8; 95% CI: 1.63-8.75) more likely to sustain a farm work injury than girls, after adjustment for age, days of farm work per year, level of supervision, type of farm, and the year of the survey.

These and other findings underscore the need for age- and developmentally appropriate interventions aimed at preventing work-related injuries among farm youth, as well as continued emphasis on the importance of adult supervision of children while they conduct farm tasks.

For more information contact the Principal Investigator: Steven R. Browning, PhD Assistant Professor of Epidemiology University of Kentucky College of Public Health Room 209-B, 115 Washington Street Lexington, KY 40536-0003