BEEF Daily

Is Ranch Life A Form Of Child Abuse? This Farm Girl Responds.


While some might call ranch work a form of child abuse, others call it a blessing, an opportunity and a gift. Here is my response to one blogger’s comments that making your children work on the ranch is abusive.

A few weeks ago, I sat in the doctor’s office with my 6-week-old daughter, Scarlett, and watched as her pediatrician walked her through the various tests to check her development during her well-baby appointment. Admittedly, I was a little nervous for this appointment, but I had good reason -- she was going to get three routine shots that day, and this first-time mama wasn’t quite sure how her little princess would take it.

When her doctor noticed my admittedly very protective, watchful eye as she held my baby, she reminded me that I couldn’t treat Scarlett like a delicate flower her whole life.

“You’ll have to toughen her up, Amanda,” she advised me. “Let Dad rough-house with her. Let her get into scrapes. She can’t be a princess forever.”

Then, I reminded her that Scarlett was going to grow up to be a tough farm girl, and I highly doubted she would be treated like a porcelain doll for too long.

“Oh, well that changes everything,” the doctor said.


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You bet it does! Growing up as a farm kid myself, it didn’t matter that I was a girl when it came time for doing hard work, and it will be the same when Scarlett gets big enough to help outside, too. Ranch kids develop a strong work ethic, sense of responsibility, appreciation for land and animals, and an understanding of where their food comes from that would be hard to teach anyplace else. I feel lucky and blessed to have grown up that way, and I’m excited to pass those lessons on to my daughter, as well.

But would some see this manual labor as a form of child abuse?

That’s exactly what Emily Jackson, blogger at “A Farm Girl’s Fight,” discovered one day when she came across another online commentator who wrote, “Farmers are awful people who often take advantage of underage children, often their own, forcing them into a life of work and learning of inhumane ways."

Jackson responded with a very good blog post entitled, “Farms: The Abuse Of Children.” Here is an excerpt:

  • The daunting task of feeding calves EVERY SINGLE night taught me responsibility. 
  • The unforgiving smell of manure on my tennis shoes in math class taught me humility.
  • The field full of hay bales that had to be loaded on a trailer then unloaded in a barn taught me work ethic.
  • The stubbornness of cattle not wanting to move pens taught me the value of team work.
  • Newborn calves born in the snow who just didn't want to eat taught me gentle patience.
  • Sorting 2,000-lb. bulls before I got into kindergarten taught me courage.
  • And, at the end of the day, the sunset beaming streams of warmth down on a green field full of cows taught me happiness.

Jackson echoes my sentiments about having to work on a farm as a little girl when she writes, “In any light, however, my conclusion is this: yes, as a child I was forced to work on my family's farm. Looking back, I wouldn't have it any other way. And one day I hope to raise my children the exact same way.”

What are your thoughts about kids helping on the farm? At what age is it appropriate to have them start helping with different tasks on the ranch? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 23 (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

Great story. Right from your Heart. Thanks

Jeanne (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

Work on the farm starts in the home - as soon as they understand picking up their toys, making their bed, folding their clothes, clearing their place at the dinner table. Having enjoyed being part of the family's household team, farm children will naturally transition out of doors to help with similar chores on the family's farm. These same responsibilities should be part of every child's upbringing.

Gerry Bade (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

working on the farm not only teaches a work ethic it also teaches self worth and self pride when a child finishes a age appropriate job as to what is the right age to start children young enough to walk enjoy helping even if it is only picking up milk pales after the calves are done eating

on Jul 28, 2014

I grew up on a feed yard with chores and responsibilities. I participated in 4-H and was required to care for my own animals. I cannot imagine growing up any other way. When I look back at my childhood I DO NOT feel like I was used, abused, or taken advantage of in any way. I DO feel like I had an opportunity not afforded to most. I learned responsibility, respect; and I always felt appreciated and loved by my parents.

I have such a great sense of fondness for the way I grew up that I am raising my kids in the same way. I do not see anything wrong with giving kids chores. In fact, I think giving kids chores is a necessary tool for teaching responsibility. If for some unfortunate reason we did not live and work in agriculture, our kids would still have chores. Those chores just wouldn't be nearly as much fun!

janie morgan (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

I grew up on a farm and also raised my children on a farm and even my grandchildren. Farm work taught me how to work and learn to take instructions on how certain things had to be done. The farm also taught me compassion for others and for animals. I learned to care for the weak and appreciate the strong. Learning that everything has a time to be born and a time to die. One of the most important things I learned was creation and how I could call on the Lord in any situation that I needed help when others were not around. We were poor in money but so rich in love and family that no one could buy.

Bruner Stockstill (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

Cathy is 10 years old and has been involved in the ranch work since she could walk. She would ride with me to check on the cattle, and watch while I bottle fed or doctored the calves. As she grew older and bigger she began to take a larger role in the activities. She helps in the care of the sick calves. Counts and checks off the ID of the cows when we work them. Helping on the ranch has taught Cathy team work as we work together, responsibility, and has brought us closer together as a family.

Shirley Betzner (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

Most farm kids grow up with the farm, so working on it and helping out comes naturally. And if it doesn't, they still are required to pitch in. No one gets to 'live for free'. Even when my son broke more eggs than he brought in (on purpose, because he didn't like being told what to do... he was 7), he was made to do it regardless. It didn't kill him. Every single one of the kids grew up to be GOOD kids, none of them were ever in any trouble in their teen years and beyond. I think it helps to have a routine, that teaches good work ethics, and that getting dirty or bloody isn't the end of the world.

wynne (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

My family has been farmers and ranchers for generations and all have been educated individuals, doctors, attorneys, teachers, socials workers, nurses, CPAs, dentists, store owners, engineers, etc. We learned our work ethic, self worth, self pride and satisfaction from chores and responsibilities as children and none of them would change anything about their lives. After college, all have returned back to farming or ranching while having a career in their chosen field.. I am sure that none has felt abused or used by their childhood experiences because they had the chance to stay away from the land, and none have made the choice to leave the land and live in towns or cities. We learned at an early age that if it ate and breathe, it would eventually die. That is the way of mother nature.
I have always felt sorry for the individuals that grew up in towns or cities because they never learn the ways of nature or the great beauty of nature. It is something that money can't buy, just like money can't buy a work ethic or happiness.

Karen (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

I too grew on a dairy farm. I of 6 kids, 5 of which were girls. We learned what it took to take care of animals and work the fields to put food on the table for a family of 8. I, as well, married a farmer and raised 3 children on the farm. They each learned to take care of animals and put in long days during harvest time. My point is this, my children have each worked off the farm. More than once my son was told by co-workers to put down the broom and stop sweeping the floors at the feed mill he was working out because that was not his job. He was making the rest of them look bad. My children did not stand by waiting to be told to do something. They saw something that needed to be done and did it rather than stand around doing nothing. I am very proud of my family. Signed, a farmers daughter, a farmers wife, and a farmers mother.

Krystian Jimenez (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

I grew up working on farm's that had livestock from goats to chickens all the way from cows to rabbits. My life as a your child consisted of working in the almond fields getting crops ready for havest and having to help my family during my summer vacation run more than 30 acres of vegetables from eggplant all the way to watermelons, ya I disliked it as a kid but now I look back at it later in life and I wasent babied as a child with a doll in my hand but a shovel or a tractors steering wheel in my hands. It taught me about the value of things in life and how you had to earn your property from sweat and tears just as my family did. It taught me that it could be easier to have the government hold your hand but when you look back to your belongings your realize hey I earned that it's mine! And those things are what makes a difference in your life. So no working on a farm as a kid isn't abuse but a way to become a hard working man or woman earlier in life.

Paige (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

My sweet little Ivy Camille is 2. She checks cattle, helps feed, and collects eggs out of the chicken
coop. She even practices her future sorting skills for the cattle pens as she rounds the hens back into their coop with a little help from mom of course. She helps pick blackberries, dig up potatoes, and does a quality check on our tomatoes daily. She also is a the copilot whenever the combines a go.

Funny thing is I NEVER have to ask twice if she wants to go on the farm and help. I do however have to drag her out of the car back into the house from the farm. She's only 2 yet she's been filled with more life experiences and appreciation for "her eggs" because of our lifestyle.

It's far from child abuse and anyone who wants to say this has never seen the joy of a two year old or a 85 year old at the dinner table eating what they grew and picked themselves. Also, my "free" child labor wasn't free. I received an education, a car, gas and life experiences. I put the hurt on the Farmers wallet just like sweet little chicken herding Ivy Camille will do to me. Remember it's a lifestyle and if it where ever border line child abuse for kids to pitch in for that new car you would be paying so much more for your groceries. That you may even take up farming, ranching, or gardening yourself.

MSc Ag from Canada (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

I did not grow up on a farm. However, I always wished that I had, and as a young child and teenager, I resented my parents for the life and career choices that had thrust me into city life. I wanted to ride horses, but my mother could only complain that they 'stank'. My father, who grew up on a farm to the age of 14, then came to Canada to enter the IT industry, didn't seem to have any knowledge of anything rural at all. I never let go of my desire to be in the middle of agriculture and related work and activities. I completed my MSc in Agriculture, and was grateful for each and every summer or p/t job I could find, working with those 'stinky' animals. Now, I find it sad how the rest of my family has no appreciation at all, for where their food comes from, or the invaluable and difficult, yet incredibly rewarding job done by producers. I feel disconnected from my family; yet, I would not trade my ag-related experience for anything. It has helped to make me into the person I am: more open-minded, conscientious, hard-working, compassionate, environmentally-connected, than I would have been without it. It has been so important to me, that it has helped me earn admittance to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada. City people 'can' be converted, convinced, of the value in hard work such as that found on-farm and done by many farm children - if we keep on sending the message.

Darryl (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

I grew up on a farm, did lots of chores I did not like nor did I think they were necessary. The knowledge that things had to be done and done right helped me be placed in jobs with more responsibility, later on after college, because that instilled work ethic is whats needed to make the system work. Looks like we need more farm raised children in Congress.

Jan Asmussen (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

RE: "Abused Farm Kids" - I would bet that a LARGE
percentage of farm and ranch kids will never have a
"rap sheet" because they are being raised with a work
ethic and don't have time to get in trouble. And, how
many of them do you think leave home as a teenager
because they have been "abused" because they have
chores to do. Most of the young people today would be
a lot bettter off - as would the world - if they had some
chores and lifestyle other than the street.

RuthAnn (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

My husband and I both grew up on ranches. Our 3 kids work on our ranch every day. They all learned to count while feeding hefers. My 7 year old would much rather work cows and build fence than go to school. He thinks school is child abuse because he has to sit still for 8 hours a day.

JB (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

I believe it all starts at birth. Children start absorbing what they see and here as soon as they are born. They have a much greater understanding of what is going on around them then most people believe. The attitude towards the work we do is picked up on very early. My family tries to take one month off a year. We only feed the cows and deal with any emergencies. My kids are usually complaining by the end of the first week that they aren't working with the cows or tending fences. Sometimes I will even catch them just out walking through field talking with the cows. Admiring there hard work. Thank God for the real America. I believe it still exists somewhere.

Olivia (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

Love this so much! I remember when it was one of the worst blizzards, and my brother and I were gathering extension cords and hair dryers to melt ice from the cattle waterers... While it wasn't fun we understood the purpose and it taught us a lot about responsibility.

I feel like many of the people who think children working on a farm is "child abuse" are usually the same people handing their child a tv remote, video games, etc... Which is not doing them any favors in the long run.

Don L (not verified)
on Jul 28, 2014

Always had chores of some type from my earliest memories. Dogs, cats, chickens, eventually rabbits and lambs that were my responsibility. 4-H meetings and competitions were great learning experiences. Working for neighbor farmers and ranchers expanded my knowledge of the multiple ways of doing tasks and working with different breeds of cattle and horses. We normally listened to the livestock report on the radio during lunch.
4 years in the Navy and a colIege degree in Range Management pretty well rounded me out.
We brought our three boys up raising rabbits and chickens, then on to sheep, horses and steers. We home-schooled them through Jr. High and High School. They each had milking goats and sheep to support their hunting habits. When they got their first 4-H market lamb checks, off we went to the Sporting Goods store. They also learned to cook and clean. They learned technology as computers came of age during their formative years. To this day, they can find work nearly anywhere and keep themselves busy.

on Jul 28, 2014

The best people I've met with the greatest work ethics are people who were raised on a farm. Not raising a child on a farm is sad. There is so much to be learned including love of life and sacrifice. It's a great life. I didn't raise my boys on a farm, and I do regret it. One has returned to country life--the others have not.

Ranch Wife and Mom (not verified)
on Jul 29, 2014

My son has recently started going out with us and helping out on the ranch, he's 5! He is the next generation who is going to be responsible for the cattle and the land. If we don't instill in him now the importance of taking care of these things, it will be lost. He will be responsible towards the things givin to him, have self-worth, have the pleasure of knowing he is helping feed America through the BEEF industry.
It is sad that some would compare Ranch life a form of child abuse, when there are children going through the real thing as we speak.
I would love any doubter to come and stay on our ranch so I could teach them how we do it :)

Josh Thoney (not verified)
on Jul 31, 2014

I am 17 and growing up on a farm I feel like I was born winning the lottery and love working with cattle everyday

Vikki (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2014

If farming & ranching is child abuse, then what about the kids that play sports and have those parents on the side lines screaming at their every move or failure. The days & hours of practice, the game, after each game comes the "critique" of what the child did wrong or how they can do better next pressure there.

on Feb 19, 2016

I don't think there is one answer to this question and I think it's relative to the parents just as much as the work requested. In some instances it is undoubtedly abuse, in others excellent life lessons that can't be taught as effectively in other situations. I will expound upon both.

When is it abuse? It is abusive, in my eyes, to make the burdens of your life choices that of your children. We don't bear children to alleviate our own choices in this world or to ensure they follow in our footsteps. I view that as the definition of servitude. A child's life, although your responsibility, is their own. It is your job as a parent to teach them important life lessons within the context of their limited understanding. This isn't to insult a child's intelligence but relativity is important to consider. That is, requiring a child to perform in ranching to supplement the costs of your ranch or farm is child abuse. Belittling them for an aversion to that lifestyle or a desire to be artistic in place of "hard-working" is no doubt abusive. Now, there are instances where kids want to give up simply because something is challenging. I am not including that response to the apparent disdain for the sport when they 5 years old and only want to make you proud. So in instances like that, yes, I absolutely think it's abusive. The abusive component is when you make your financial burdens theirs. When you share your financial complaints with a 5 year old and use their winnings to pay your bills or supplement the sport you may be pressuring them into continuing, well, that is extremely abusive in my eyes.

To the credit of Jackson, having responsibilities at a young age is imperative to develop virtuous behaviors that will transcend into adulthood and benefit the community and country as a whole. I had innumerable arduous chores I had to do every day and as much as I hated them and would fight my parents on the need for me to complete them, I would never deny their value in shaping me into the man that I am. In consideration of these facts I don't think allocating certain chores to children is bad or abusive. Learning how to care for other lives, how to sow and raise seeds, how to learn from your environment, how to examine pest and bird patterns for indications on potential yields - these are all fantastic things to learn!

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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