Working with livestock represents a daily routine for producers, but it’s important to stay aware of potential dangers when it comes to working with animals.
Animal-related farm injuries rank in the top three when it comes to farm accidents, according to data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Much of those happen around larger animals, such as cattle and horses, according to NIOSH.
Planning ahead should help reduce many of those injuries, says Denise Schwab, Extension livestock specialist with Iowa State University. This involves always having an escape route and proper handling equipment.
“You have to respect the animals and understand their comfort zone,” she says. “For example, if cattle get excited, you need to step back and let them calm down.”
Cattle accustomed to being around humans are less likely to get stirred up during routine daily chores. That also makes them easier to handle when it comes to vaccinating, Schwab says.
Producers also need to be cognizant of timing. Schwab says cows can become easily agitated after calving, and bulls will be more aggressive during breeding season.
It’s also important to understand animal behavior.
“Work with them and understand their instincts,” Schwab says. “Cattle have a blind spot directly behind them, so you want to walk where they can see you. Every animal is going to have their own comfort zone.”
Equipment maintenance should be done prior to working cattle. Schwab says any additional distraction has the potential to agitate the animal.
Keeping stress to a minimum is a priority when working cattle, says Aaron Yoder, associate professor in the Department of Environmental, Agricultural & Occupational Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
He says there are a number of low-stress handling systems available to producers, both commercially and systems that can be constructed right on the farm.
“Respect animals and how they think,” Yoder says. “Any low-stress handling system is going to help everyone stay calm.”
Crafting a plan ahead of something like weaning will help keep danger to a minimum as well, he says.
“You want to make sure you have the tools you are going to need to make the process as safe as possible,” Yoder says.
He recommends staying completely visible to animals. Sneaking up on an animal, Yoder says, may seem predatory and cause the animal to become stressed.
Adequate labor is also essential.
“You need to understand the capabilities of those involved,” Yoder says. “Older employees may not be able to move quickly if necessary, while new employees may not understand how animals will react.”
He adds those helping with vaccination or other processes will want to make sure they rest up ahead of time.
“Studies show that well-rested people are better workers,” Yoder says. “You need to take care of yourself, too.”