Island time’ phenomenon good for not rushing and being safe

by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOULIN—Beef farmer Dave McDowell, one half of the Manitoulin Livestock Exchange, credits the Island pace of life with the small amount of farm-related incidents taking place on Manitoulin Island.

“One thing I’m really impressed with here on the Island is I’ve been here five years and I hear of very few farm accidents compared to the south (Ontario),” Mr. McDowell said.

“I think part of it is the Island time thing—they aren’t in as much of a hurry,” he continued. “Accidents generally happen when people are rushing.”

Mr. McDowell said farm safety is mostly common sense, but there are things that people forget. “And you can’t legislate safety,” he said. “People need to be responsible for their own mistakes.”

Equipment manufacturers can also be thanked for making farming safer over the course of the last 10 to 15 years. He gave the example of a new combine which, when the farmer gets off of the seat, automatically turns off the header, or the safety blocks now found in a modern round baler.

Farm safety is all about awareness, he added, noting that the Farm Safety Association and Workman’s Safety Insurance Board and Ministry of Labour all do a good job in giving farmers the tools they need to stay safe on the farm.

A safety feature that Mr. McDowell is now making a regular practice on his farm, and also during sale days with the Manitoulin Livestock Exchange, is dealing with cattle behind the gates instead of in front of gates. For example, if a calf runs by kicking, not doing it to hurt the farmer or farm workers but because it’s playing, being behind the gate doesn’t hurt so much if it’s kicking as it goes by, he said.

Mr. McDowell said he grew up on a dairy farm, which later transitioned to a beef farm with cash crops.

Safety, he said, began with his grandmother. “I wasn’t allowed to ride on a tractor unless it was inside of the cab, and now I do that too,” he said.

While he has never had a close call with farm tragedy, he has witnessed one. One summer Mr. McDowell was working for his uncle, picking and washing peas and beans. This work was being done during the night with a machine working alongside them to wash the peas in a drum. One of the workers, a young man, stepped backward and lost his footing and ended up in the drum. A strong worker, the young man was able to wrestle his way out without too much damage, but it could have been much, much worse, Mr. McDowell reminisced.

“Up here on the Island, the guys do a tremendous job, even with the older equipment that is prevalent,” he added.

As for words to the wise, Mr. McDowell shared “big gates, high gates, strong gates—the more the better,” adding that any form of communication, from cellphone to walkie-talkie, for farmers out in their pastures or fields, is critical too.