My family moved to our 60-acre farm at Malaga, Ohio, during the summer of 1962. Dad immediately began collecting livestock. First was a Guernsey cow, Dad named Rose, since the previous year with three growing boys our monthly milk bill had been more than our rent. He quickly added a couple dozen chickens and a sow we called Snowball. A pair of cats appeared one Saturday morning and soon a liter was born.
This move required a new system of chores. Dad milked the cow and Joe took care of the pig. I was delegated the feeding of the chickens and the gathering of eggs. I loved this task as I reached into the dark recess of the nest and sometimes found the treasure while other times nothing was available. I almost always came out with at least a dozen eggs. This daily event was like Easter egg hunting.
Milking time was fun, too. As the kittens got older, they soon learned to gather around the feet of the cow when she was put in the stanchion. Occasionally, Dad squirted a stream of milk toward the kittens and they learned to brace themselves on their hind legs begging for the treat. Usually, we filled a bowl away from the cow to avoid the kittens getting accidentally stepped on by Rose.
During that first summer, Dad and Mom had to attend a funeral several hundred miles away. My sister Sylvia was 14 and was deemed to be capable of tending to us boys. However, Dad didn't think Joe, at 11, was ready to assume the job of milking the cow. Instead, he asked a teacher, Miss Pennell, who worked with Mom to milk the cows.
Miss Pennell was a very large but very sweet woman and she readily assumed the responsibility. During the school year, Mom drove Miss Pennell and another equally large woman the 20 miles to the little country school where they all taught. Sometimes I rode to school with the three of them. I sat behind Mom and had trouble staying in my seat as the 56 Chevy noticeably tilted to the right. The car's shocks had to be replaced more often than one would expect with such a durable vehicle.
Joe, Jack, and I gathered around the cow at each milking. We had a little red, wooden stool we used during the milking process. A small tin cup was employed to catch the milk and was periodically transferred to a larger bucket hanging behind the cow. As Miss Pennell was returning from one such transfer, Rose was startled and gave a healthy kick directly at Miss Pennell. I thought she was going to be seriously hurt but although slightly stunned, she was not moved by the kick. I looked with surprise at Miss Pennell and saw the brown outline of a hoof print on her forehead. The extension of the kick was only enough to kiss Miss Pennell's forehead with a silhouette of the cow's hoof. We all laughed when we realized she was unhurt.
Sometimes just a fraction of an inch can mean the difference between disaster and a safe outcome. Years had passed since Miss Pennell last milked a cow. She had forgotten the danger of a cow's hoof. When administering a task rarely performed, good leaders require employees to think through the safety issues involved. Reviewing safety data sheets and job breakdowns can make the difference between an accident, a close call, or a safe workday.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com, or call him at 1-740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.