David Fourqurean Ag Agent McLean County Cooperative Extension Service.
Few farmers view livestock as a source of danger. Yet animal-related accidents cause numerous deaths and serious injuries each year. A recent National Safety Council study ranked beef cattle farms second and dairy operations third among all farming enterprises in injuries per hour of work. Seventeen percent of all farm injuries involve animals. This equaled the percentage of injuries caused by farm machinery.
Removing hazards brings you one step closer to a safe work environment. Whether you are operating equipment or working with animals, taking a few precautions and observing safety rules can save you precious time, prevent injury, or even save your life.
Anyone who works with livestock knows each animal has its own personality. Animals sense their surroundings differently than humans. Their vision is in black and white, not in color. They also have difficulty judging distances. And differences exist between the vision of cattle, swine, and horses. For example, cattle have close to 360-degree panoramic vision. A quick movement behind cattle may “spook” them.
Animals have extremely sensitive hearing and can detect sounds that human ears cannot hear. Loud noises frighten animals, and research proves that high-frequency sounds actually hurt their ears. These factors explain why animals are often skittish and balky, particularly in unfamiliar surroundings.
Watching animals for signs of aggressiveness or fear alerts you to possible danger. Warning signs may include raised or pinned ears, raised tail or hair on the back, bared teeth, pawing the ground, or snorting.
Although handling methods may vary greatly for different types of livestock, there are some generally accepted rules for working with any animal:
- Most animals will respond to routine; be calm and deliberate.
- Avoid quick movements or loud noises.
- Be patient; never prod an animal when it has nowhere to go.
- Respect livestock — don’t fear it.
- Move slowly and deliberately around livestock; gently touch animals rather than shoving or bumping them.
- Always have an escape route when working with an animal in close quarters.
Many livestock handling injuries are directly related to equipment or building structures. Poor facilities and equipment can also cause injuries to animals. This can mean a considerable economic loss at market time.
Tripping hazards such as high door sills, cluttered alleyways, and uneven walking surfaces can cause serious injury and a considerable amount of lost work time. Studies have found that falls account for 18 percent of all animal-related accidents.
Concrete floors are best for livestock. The finish on concrete floors should be roughened to prevent slips under wet conditions. High traffic areas, such as alleyways, should be grooved. Floors should allow water to drain easily. Slatted floors often are used to keep animals dry in a confinement system.
Fencing and gates should be strong enough to contain crowded livestock. A variety of materials are available, but the key is strength and durability. A protruding piece of lumber, a nail or a bolt can cause painful and infectious injuries. If backed or pushed into, one of these objects can cause a serious back injury.
Alleys and chutes should be wide enough to allow animals to pass, but not wide enough to allow them to turn around. A width of 30 inches is recommended for a cow/calf operation. For cattle in the range of 800 to 1,200 pounds, a 26-inch width is recommended. Solid wall chutes, instead of fencing, will lower the number of animals that balk in the chute.
Lighting should be even and diffused. Bright spots and shadows tend to make animals more skittish, especially near crowding or loading areas. Animals move more readily from dark areas into the light, but avoid layouts that make them look directly into the sun.
Handling equipment can speed up livestock confinement work operations, reduce time and labor requirements, cut costs, and decrease the risk of injury.
Safety reminders for livestock handling
- Good housekeeping is essential, not only for your personal safety but also for the health and well being of your stock.
- Keep children away from animals, particularly in livestock handling areas.
- Most male animals are dangerous. Use special facilities for these animals and practice extreme caution when handling them.
- Be calm and deliberate when working with animals. Always leave yourself an “out” when working in close quarters.
- Respect all animals. They may not purposely hurt you, but their size and bulk make them potentially dangerous.
- Most animals tend to be aggressive when protecting their young; be extra careful around newborn animals.
- Stay clear of animals that are frightened or “spooked.” Be extra careful around strange animals.
- Monitor entry into your operation; sales and service personnel could bring diseases from other farms.
- Keep facilities in good repair. Chutes, stalls, fences, and ramps should be maintained regularly.