Abby Bauer
When I was in middle school, the barn on my family’s dairy burned down. Most of the cows escaped, but the entire wooden part of the hip roof barn was gone, leaving just the brick walls standing.

After the dust settled and the smoke cleared, we used those walls as the foundation for the new barn that was built. During clean up and construction, the cows were housed and milked at a farm that had recently sold out about 25 minutes away.

It was a June day when construction of the new barn was complete and our herd could return home. Fittingly, the first cow to walk into the barn was one of the boss cows, a leader, that had always been one of the first cows to return to the barn when the cows were brought up from the pasture.

Even though the cows were unloaded through a different door (not the one they would have normally come through), that cow marched right down the alley and hopped into the stall that always had been hers, third from the front door.

That cow’s actions and ability to remember her old stall have always stuck with me. Cattle are truly creatures of habit.

Farmers can be creatures of habit, too, often because farm work and farm life require them to be. There are certain jobs and events that must happen at the same time every year, every week, or every day. This routine is comforting. It provides predictability and stability. Yet, if a job becomes so habitual, so second nature that a person’s mind isn’t focused on the task at hand, it opens the door for mistakes to be made or accidents to happen.

The same can happen when people have a lot on their plates and start rushing through jobs. Corners are cut and risks are taken that can lead to dangerous situations.

The demands of farm work intensify in the spring, carry through the summer, and before we know it, the busy harvest season will be upon us. It’s a time of year when many in agriculture are running long work hours short on sleep, and unfortunately, the level of danger seems to elevate. In just the last week, there have been reports of at least two on-farm fatalities and one serious injury related to tractors in Wisconsin alone.

Manure handling comes with a unique set of risks, one of them being toxic gases. The article on page 16 explains why hydrogen sulfide is so dangerous — and so deadly. This silent villain can overcome people in a matter of seconds, and it can elevate to unsafe levels in unpredictable areas.

Last summer, an Ohio farm family went through unimaginable heartbreak as a result of toxic gas. Three brothers, all in their 30s, were doing maintenance on a pump in a manure pit. At some point, the trio was overcome by manure gasses, and despite lifesaving efforts, all three brothers passed away. Three lives were cut short, and a family and the surrounding community were left mourning.

This devastaating story is a reminder — and a warning — that dangers are present on the farm every day. These young men had a farm to run and a lot of life left to live. Don’t let this happen to your family, your employees, or yourself — work safely around manure gases, machinery, and animals.

It is so easy to take shortcuts when time and patience are running low. We do it while farming and in every day life. But one little misstep can change everything in an instant. Don’t let your story end this way. Commit to your memory the importance of making safe decisions.

Until next time,


This article appeared in the May 2022 issue of Journal of Nutrient Management on page 4.

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