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TASKMASTERS: Baby sitters who care for our children often encounter other farm chores — like returning hogs to their pen — as part of their duties. Are we paying them enough?

Farm baby sitters deserve better pay

Chasing pigs is not typical baby sitter duty, except in rural America.

I opened the front door, took one step and saw them. There, in the front yard, were two show pigs gone rogue.

Immediately, they noticed me. These were the pigs my five young nieces and nephews had cared for all summer. So instead of being scared and heading the other direction, the 250-pound creatures came barreling toward me. Running and grunting, it took me a second to realize they were not attacking, but wanting attention. They reached my feet and stopped. Then the real work began.

I was at my brother’s farm looking after my 2-year-old nephew, Tate, since his baby sitter was sick. I quickly realized there was going to be more to this gig than I expected. And I deserved better pay.

The pigs escaped from their pens in the lower pasture. All I had to do was drive them back. It seemed simple. They were trained pigs. I soon realized, though — not by me.

Any gentle coaxing with my hands did not work. I resorted to a piece of plastic. I searched for the “sweet spot,” or what I thought was the area the kids used as a sweet spot, to drive the hog. Turns out it was right behind the ear, off to the side. Finally, we were heading out of the front yard.

Did I mention there were four dogs giving me an assist? OK, Autumn and Buddy, both Great Pyrenees sheep guard dogs, just barked. They were actually the most helpful dogs in the situation.

It seemed every time I would drive the hogs forward, Jackie, the border collie, would decide to become a header. I yelled, she moved and then Sadie, the corgi, became a heeler. Back and forth it went, all the way to the pen.

After about 10 minutes, the hogs were safe and secure. I headed toward the house and thought about the extra responsibilities we put on baby sitters who watch our kids on the farm.

The kids
Many rural kids are adventurous. They are the ones who, if the hogs are out, want to help you put them away. They don’t see stacked hay bales as a feed source for livestock, but rather a jungle gym that needs to be conquered. And critters — large or small, alive or dead — all are meant to be investigated, picked up and brought to the house for school show-and-tell.

Rural kids can be a handful. It takes a special kind of person to baby-sit our brood — something to remember when we choose or pay for farm baby sitters.

The surroundings
Going outside on the farm to play is like entering a battlefield, and our farm baby sitters are on the front line. They must keep a watchful eye that our children don’t poke themselves or their siblings with fencing wire, metal posts or even a pitchfork — all while praying none of these are rusty.

Forget Legos. They are constantly monitoring younger kids attempting to put rocks, grass or chicken — no, sheep — no, dog — well, some kind of farm poop in their mouths. The farming environment does not make the job of baby-sitting easy.

The rewards
Life as a baby sitter is never boring. Farm kids bring a unique perspective to every situation. They can make baling twine into lassos, cornstalks into swords and ordinary carpet into soybean fields at harvest.

However, safeguarding rural youth is not something everyone can do. It takes someone who understands our kids, our farms and our way of life. We should remember that those who watch over our most valued treasures endure a lot more than their city counterparts do.

Of course, I did not make my brother pay for baby-sitting. But perhaps other special farm baby sitters should have greater rewards. You never know when they will be asked to drive hogs from your front lawn.

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