Sunday, 2 October 2022
When Thomas Billing was a baby, his dairy farmer parents Mark and Sam set up a playpen in the calf shed so they could work while their baby was nearby but safely out the way.
Fast-forward sixteen years and Thomas, along with his three younger siblings, now help out on his parents’ farm as a way to “earn his keep”.
But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, and that’s the family’s priority of on-farm safety.
Mr Billing, who is the fourth generation to run and live on the dairy farm, said Thomas and his siblings Bridget, 14, Isabella, 12, and Henry, 10, all enjoy living and working on the farm.
“About 12 months ago, Thomas started helping out with milking, and now he’s the back-up milker, helping out on weekends and inbetween his school studies,” he said.
“Bridget helps with calf rearing on the weekends and looks after the working dogs, feeding them, that’s her job.
“And the younger two help with getting up the cows and calves and other odd jobs here and there.”
Mr and Mrs Billing instilled in their children from a young age strict rules and boundaries for when they were out and about on the farm.
“Calves are generally okay but they can still do dumb things, whereas cows are a little bigger, so my kids know where to be and where not to be when cattle are moving around.
“We have a rotary dairy, and the kids aren’t allowed in the dairy space while milking’s going on, we have exclusion areas for them.”
He said the kids knew they had to wear helmets when riding their push bikes or motorbikes around the farm.
They were also aware of the danger of vehicles or machinery traveling around the farm.
“From a young age they’ve learned that if someone’s in a tractor, they need to have eye contact with them, and to not be around any equipment that’s moving around,” he said.
He said working for the local CFA reminded him constantly of the importance of farm safety, particularly when it came to his kids.
“Last year a friend of mine was killed working on his farm with a baler,” he said.
“That really brought it home for me, losing someone we knew, who had kids the same age as ours.
“It really refocused us around machinery and we sat down with the kids and said ‘this can happen, and happen very quickly, and if we don’t want to deal with the trauma of this, the best way to avoid it is stay in your spaces, and if you’re not sure about something, don’t do it’.”
Mr Billing said at the end of the day, he knew it was his and Mrs Billing’s responsibility to watch their children.
“When our kids are out on the farm, we supervise them, we don’t expect our staff to,” he said. “We know we have to be forever vigilant, and never switch off, particularly when there’s kids around.”