A Free-Range Story — Literally. Farmers’ Kids are “Underage Labor” and Must Stop Working

Readers — It’s not often Free-Range Kids meets Free-Range Chickens but they do in today’s post, which comes to us from the CBC — Canada’s NPR, if you will:

The owners of a farm in east-central Saskatchewan say they’re shocked they are being investigated by the province after it received a complaint about minors working in the family’s processing business.

“I was flabbergasted,” Janeen Covlin told CBC News about the investigation by the Occupational Health and Safety Division (OHS). “Our whole farm vision was to include our kids.”

An OHS officer arrived at her farm near Endeavour on Tuesday.

Cool Springs Ranch and Butchery raises, butchers and sells free-range chickens.

The Covlins’ eldest children Kate, 10, and Emma, 8, are involved in every step of the operation, from pasture to fork.

Farm kids in traditional farming operations are exempt from most labour laws in Saskatchewan, excluding basic prohibitions from operating motorized farm equipment and handling dangerous chemicals.

However, Covlin said the OHS officer informed her that her children cannot work inside the family’s small poultry processing plant.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act prohibits workers under the age of 16 from working in a meat, fish or poultry production facility.

“To us, the processing plant is just one middle step in our whole chain from the farmer to the consumer, and the children are involved in every part of it,” Covlin said.

Yeah, yeah, tell it to the judge. In today’s society, children are ornamental — that’s why we have to bubble-wrap them, like Hummel figurines.  Those kids shouldn’t encounter real, live chickens. Better they should care for Angry Birds. – L. 

Since when are KIDS expected to pitch in on a farm???

Since when are KIDS expected to pitch in on a farm?

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36 Responses to A Free-Range Story — Literally. Farmers’ Kids are “Underage Labor” and Must Stop Working

  1. GRS August 8, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    They tried to do this in the United States a couple of years back:

    http://dailycaller.com/2012/04/25/rural-kids-parents-angry-about-labor-dept-rule-banning-farm-chores/

    It got scrapped:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/27/white-house-child-labor-agriculture_n_1458701.html

    I recall reading somewhere–though I could not find it quickly–that in some cases Farm Workers Unions wanted these rules. The idea, obviously, would be that farmers would be forced to hire (union) farm workers instead of having their own children do the work. I would not be surprised if some of the same is going on in Canada: They want to force the farmers to hire workers instead of having their own children involved in the farm.

  2. Jen (P.) August 8, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    This is the inevitable consequence of government regulation of labor relations. What began as an effort to prevent truly dangerous working conditions and exploitation of workers has evolved into micromanagement of the employer-employee relationship at every level. Family farms have generally been excepted from most labor laws in the U.S. too, and that is changing here as well.

  3. Lance Mitaro August 8, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    The over-glorification, worshiping and protection of children continues!

  4. MichaelF August 8, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    I wonder if this fits in this overarching theme at all:

    “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” –Benjamin Franklin

  5. Thea August 8, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    My grandparents had a diary farm that lasted until the late 50’s. My dad did all kinds of work around the farm starting at a very young age. Like 8 or 9 driving the combines. And he was a small kid.

    Not that I want to live on a farm but it is a great work and learning environment.

  6. Yocheved August 8, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    Wow, this country sure had changed. My dad has dyslexia, and was always a poor student because nobody knew what a learning disability was back then.

    In 8th grade, his guidance counselor told him that the best he could do was to drop out of school and work as a farm hand.

    (Lucky for him, he finished high school and went into the Air Force, where they found out that he’s brilliant at electronics.)

  7. Richard August 8, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    In this case it is justified. You children should not be involved in the needless slaughter of animals. They should not be taught it is acceptable.

  8. EricS August 8, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    Geeeez! Whatever happened to CHOICE. Sure this law protects those children FORCED into labor. But what if the children WANT to be part of the process? Especially family owned businesses. If it’s in the children’s interest (at the time) to help build the business, then it’s only prudent they learn at a young age. Much like learning everything else in life at a young age. Like walking to school by themselves. Going to the store by themselves. Crossing the street by themselves. etc.

    Everything the older generation did as children, should continue to apply to children of the newer generation. There is nothing different now (life wise, not people wise) than it was in the past. Only peoples ignorance has gotten worse. Even worse, people find excuses for their ignorance and selfishness.

  9. Donna August 8, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Okay, the headline and comments are a total exaggeration of what is happening. The kids are not being ordered to stop working completely. They are only prohibited from working in the chicken processing plant. They are fully allowed to do all other work involved with chickens. I really don’t think anything is served by such exaggerations. It just makes people ignore what may be a very valid issue.

    As for the children working in a poultry processing plant, I am not opposed to the 16 year age limit in general. Those places are dangerous. The workers are regularly notably injured. However, I somehow doubt that a small-scale family processing plant actually posses the same dangers as the large-scale, assembly-line commercial plants we have around here. It seems as though some exception should be made for family businesses.

  10. Scott Lazarowitz August 8, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    A family has a right to provide for themselves with whatever means they happen to have, including their farm and animals to sell chicken. And including the children in the family who are receiving the early benefits of making use of their own energies and abilities as they learn farming and business skills. Communities should prohibit those kinds of bureaucrats who invade the family’s property and attempt to interfere with the family’s peaceful activities. (i.e. the bureaucrats are the real criminals here, in my view.)

  11. Lori August 8, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    I grew up on a farm and I respectfully disagree with your opinion on this one. While farm chores are definitely great for kids to do, a processing plant (regardless of size) does not constitute farm work. And as dangerous as farm work can be (which is why children are prohibited from certain tasks), meat processing is considerably more so.

  12. Papilio August 8, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    @Donna: Yes, thank you.
    Maybe something about not working with large machinery, as opposed to the manual process.

  13. no rest for the weary August 8, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    “needless slaughter of animals”

    Hm. Humans evolved their large brains and reasoning capabilities because they ate animal protein. Namely, meat.

    For the sake of animals, I’d much prefer to see small, humane poultry operations than large-scale, industrial farming of animals any day.

    Or else no more humans. But I don’t think that’s going to be a popular choice.

  14. Loreen August 8, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    If the government is prohibiting the kids from feeding the chickens or collecting eggs, I’d be outraged. But it sounds here like they are saying that mass-production slaughtering of chickens may not be appropriate work for an 8 and 10 year old. My mom learned to kill chickens at age 10 and she hated it, but it was only one chicken at a time and it was part of living on a sustainable farm. You want to eat a chicken, you kill it. Slaughtering hundreds or thousands of chickens at a time is different. I agree that this is difficult work suited for grown-ups. Let the kids do other chores.

  15. pentamom August 8, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

    “In this case it is justified. You children should not be involved in the needless slaughter of animals. They should not be taught it is acceptable.”

    You are entitled to your opinion. However, it is none of your or the government’s business to legislate your opinions about such things.

    I’m with Donna, though — is this is about working in a processing plant, that’s different from farm work.

  16. kate August 8, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

    These kids are not working around major machinery in a poultry processing plant! According to the article they have “a little butcher shop on the farm,” where everything is done manually, unlike a high-tech processing plant with mechanized machines. Kate and Emma Covlin donned hairnets and aprons to demonstrate their chores of weighing and vacuum bagging the chicken” Sounds like age appropriate chores to me.

  17. Warren August 8, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

    Kate,
    Bang on the money. This did not stem from union workers, it did not stem from automated production lines. This was a complaint by some jackass busybody that thinks kids should not be doing farm work.
    It was the investigator that brought up the processing crap.

    Farm life is farm life. If people don’t like it, then stick to shopping at the grocery store.

    And just so Richard knows, going to dry rub the ribs, we got from a much needed slaughtered pig. Goin in the smoker tomorrow.

  18. Jennifer Hendricks August 8, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

    History makes rather clear that we need restrictions on child labor, and keeping them out of meat processing plants sounds like a good place to start. Any rule is going to be over- and under-inclusive in certain cases. (The agricultural exemption in US child labor laws is allowing thousands of immigrant children to work insane hours and get nicotine poisoning in tobacco fields.) There are also very good reasons for not just always leaving it to the discretion of the inspector on the ground. I’m okay with a bright line rule here.

  19. Matthew August 8, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

    Bright line is good. Is it that less of a bright line to go with “unless immediately supervised by their legal guardian”?

    When I was 14, I did some research and, at least then, SC still had apprenticeship laws. I talked my way into a job for a family friend that built custom circular staircases and learned woodworking and welding. I also used some large and dangerous machines. SC clearly limited it to where there was something where it was a craft or other skill where knowledge was only valuable with technique and experience. The specifically mention lawnmowers as forbidden if working for a landscaping company. Minimal knowledge or skill reward for the risk.

    Engineer now, but still use those skills.

  20. Warren August 8, 2014 at 10:26 pm #

    There was a dairy farmer commercial not too long ago. It chronicled a boy from about 8 to 10 yrs old, helping on the farm, thru his teens, until he was a dad, and the farm was his. It ends with him getting up before first light, heading to the barn, to find his young daughter was already there.

    Yes we do not want children in a processing plant making chicken mcnuggets on the midnite shift.
    This is a small family run farm………there is a big damn difference. You cannot compare the two.

  21. pentamom August 8, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    I’m sympathetic with the argument that this is just a small operation, not a mechanized processing plants, so this doesn’t need to be forbidden.

    It seems likely that the problem here is that the law doesn’t distinguish between a large, mechanized processing plant, and the kind of operation the Covlins have, because whoever wrote the law didn’t envision that kind of small operation. That can be corrected. In the meantime, the officials are probably obligated to enforce it.

  22. baby-paramedic August 9, 2014 at 1:32 am #

    I am curious about what their role is in the processing plant though.
    Could be anything from sweeping the floor up

  23. Papilio August 9, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

    @pentamom: My thoughts exactly :-)

  24. twinkles August 9, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

    Lenore – you’re doing the same thing as the media. A bit less drama in the title and a few more facts please.

    And, I’m a farm kid. Killed chickens, ate chickens and doing the same with my kids now. A disconnection between plate and production results in over consumption and lack of respect for the life given to provide the meal. Farm kids know exactly where their food comes from, how much work is involved in obtaining their food and know the value of a life. I think most of the modern world could use a big dose of the farm kid reality.

  25. Warren August 9, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    @twinkles
    How is Lenore being over dramatic?
    This is a small family run farm, and the gov’t has ordered them to stop having their kids work. It is that simple.

  26. Donna August 9, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

    Lenore is being overly dramatic because the kids absolutely were NOT ordered to stop working on the farm. In fact, the children can still do the vast majority of what they were doing prior to this and can even work the exact same amount of hours they were working. They simply cannot process the meat anymore.

    I’m not saying that the meat processing law shouldn’t be rewritten to make an exception for small family farms like this, but not being able to do a single job, out of hundreds, on the farm is VASTLY different from not being able to work at all.

  27. miranalini August 11, 2014 at 8:28 am #

    Child labor is one of many problems world is suffering from specially countries like India where its a main issue many story books for children describe many issues relating child labor and discrimination

  28. Dirk August 11, 2014 at 9:32 am #

    From the actually article…

    “Farm kids in traditional farming operations are exempt from most labour laws in Saskatchewan, excluding basic prohibitions from operating motorized farm equipment and handling dangerous chemicals.”

    They can work on a family farm, just not in a chicken processing plant (not matter how tiny or artisan it may be).

  29. Dirk August 11, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    Also, this is a bit of a gotcha piece of news. This farm was probably being looked at because it had previous actual violations…

    From the article itself…””The Covlins also frequently employ local teenagers under age 16 in their butcher shop…”

    “…the Covlins acknowledged they are violating the province’s labour laws by employing those teenagers.”

  30. Warren August 11, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

    Dirk,

    More laws that need to be abolished. Those teens that worked “illegally”, were not forced, chained to the work station. In this day and age, with the global wreck of an economy, they were probably thankful to be able to make some money.

    Now these workers will be unemployed. Way to go to the morons in power.

  31. Susan2 August 12, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Mixed feelings on this one. Would definitely need to learn more. Both my brother-in-law and my nephew teach high school agriculture in a rural part of the US. The stats on child injuries on farms, including family farms (farms that are for the family’s living, not hobby farms), are staggering. There are many reputable, agricultural organizations, many of them extension services, that are trying to combat farm injuries among youth, so I don’t think it’s merely a case of people being overprotective. In a recent extension publication, I read that children under 16 make up around 20% of farm fatalities. I don’t know what the stats are now, but several years ago agriculture had the highest accident rate of any industry, and a disproportionate number of those accidents involved minors.

  32. Powers August 12, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    As a society, we know kids under 16 don’t have the wherewithal to make informed consensual decisions about having sex. So why do some commenters here think they can make informed consensual decisions about doing potentially dangerous work on farms?

    I don’t see why kids should be exempted from labor laws just because their parents are their employers. If anything, that seems like it makes it worse.

  33. Warren August 13, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

    Susan2,

    Just out of curiousity…………if those kids lived in the city, do they not stand higher risk of death due to city related dangers.

    What I am saying is that no matter where you live, no matter what you do, there is always accidents that can happen.

    I looked up numbers for Ontario. And while some numbers seemed wow, when taken in the whole, and considering it was over a 16 yr period. Not so much.

    Hell I was taking my 8 yr olds to work with me on Saturdays. They were surrounded by heavy equipment, trucks, cranes, torches, and so on. Were they at risk? Of course. But no more if they were out biking around town.

  34. Warren August 13, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

    Powers,
    Please tell me you were being sarcastic.

  35. Amanda Matthews August 14, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    “Lenore is being overly dramatic because the kids absolutely were NOT ordered to stop working on the farm. In fact, the children can still do the vast majority of what they were doing prior to this and can even work the exact same amount of hours they were working. They simply cannot process the meat anymore.
    I’m not saying that the meat processing law shouldn’t be rewritten to make an exception for small family farms like this, but not being able to do a single job, out of hundreds, on the farm is VASTLY different from not being able to work at all.”

    The problem is, though, with a small business, every job is essential. And they often can’t afford to hire someone to do them.

    So if they need 3 people doing the meat processing, and the kids can’t do it anymore, and the parents can’t afford to hire someone else, then whole business falls apart. Those other jobs won’t be there.

    I’m not saying this is the case for this specific business, just giving an example. Maybe this farm can work around it. But should they have to? In my opinion, no.

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  1. Maggie's Farm - August 11, 2014

    Monday morning links

    Farmers’ Kids are “Underage Labor” and Must Stop Working Blogging Alone – Review: ‘The Vanishing Neighbor’ Strange facts about birds If people can’t be bothered to dress for the occasion, they are not welcome at my funeral. The Perils of Attachme