According to University of Missouri Extension Regional Livestock Specialist Eldon Cole, livestock inflict injuries on their handlers nearly every day, from smashed thumbs or broken wrists to the grimmer, but thankfully rarer, incidents that make headlines.
“The main categories are usually cows at calving time that are protective of their babies,” Cole told Ozarks Farm and Neighbor. “They’ll go after a farmer every now and then if he’s trying to castrate it or tag it, or maybe something as simple as trying to see if it’s a bull or a heifer calf. A cow that just has a newborn baby gets pretty aggressive, and you get to learn which ones are the aggressors and which ones are calm and easy to get along with.”
It doesn’t even need to be an act of aggression; they’re a lot bigger than you. Cole, who’s had his own run-ins with them, said if you’re not alert a 2,500-pound bull “can do some bonebreaking and lay you up for a while. Be on your toes, and don’t let the cattle be on your toes.”
Sometimes, it’s not just enough to stay clear of the animal.
“When you’re handling livestock, especially large animals like cattle, you need to respect them and to have facilities that give you some protection,” he said.
When working animals, it’s best to stick with a routine; Cole said the animals understand what you’re doing, and if you change the way you move them they may balk at it. He also said it’s good to have someone with you if it’s possible; although modern devices like cell phones offer some protection.
“If you get knocked down and knocked out, maybe you can get back your senses enough to call for somebody to come help,” he said.
And, with the advancing age of the farm population, older farmers need to recognize that they don’t move as fast as they used to.
“They may say, ‘I’ve always done this,’ but they don’t realize their reflexes are not quite as good as they were,” Cole said. “We pay a lot more attention now to the docility of cattle with EPDs, so if you’ve got cattle with more of a nervous tendency, you may want to be watching the EPDs on your breeding stock selection.”
There is an even greater risk to visitors to your farm, particularly if there are a lot of them, and they’re not wise to the ways of livestock. Dr. Heidi Ward, University of Arkansas Extension veterinarian, told OFN they’re trying to educate operators of agritourism enterprises about the importance of briefing their guests.
“We need to help them remember that livestock do have flight zones, they have excellent peripheral vision, and they can get spooked very easy,” she said.
The type of enterprise she’s talking about is a fully functional farm that may have a few cattle, horses, sheep and other animals to add to the atmosphere; typically, they’ll involve the visitor in basic handling techniques, like putting a halter on a horse. Before that happens, Ward recommended giving the visitor a demonstration about flight zones – that is, the animals personal space, and it varies from one animal to the next.
One tip she offered on handling large animals – the closer you are, the better.
“This is something that you’re always taught with horses,” she said. “When handling feet on horses, actually leaning on them, they don’t have room to kick you and do a lot of damage…When you are in close contact with an animal, always have a hand or something touching them so they know that you’re there.” And don’t stand behind a horse, mule or donkey – that’s part of their flight zone, and could lead to a kick.”


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