Posted: October 30, 2010
Livestock owners, most times, do not see their animals being a source of danger. Owners and caretakers realize that each animal has a different personality. Some even have thought of their animals as human beings because of their personalities and docility. Many times when this happens, owners forget that they are still animals and this is when injuries occur. It is said that the leading cause of livestock handling accidents is because of poor judgment and the lack of animal behavior knowledge. It is important that safety is the number one priority when working with livestock.
Here are some tips to prevent accidents on the farm when working with livestock.
All livestock see things differently and can be startled very quickly by their surroundings. Cattle have almost 360 degree panoramic vision but cannot see directly behind them. All livestock animals see objects in black and white, not in color. Cattle and hogs actually have a difficult time judging distances. All of these reasons explain why it is important to stay calm and avoid the animal’s blind spots when approaching them. The best areas to approach are the front or sides of the animal.
Most injuries are caused by startled animals. Many objects can frighten livestock such as lighting, shadows, strange animals, and loud noises. Cattle are very sensitive to loud noises and can actually hear sounds that humans cannot hear. It is essential that when you are working with livestock you do not yell. High frequency sounds actually harm their ears.
Livestock respond the best to routine. To eliminate skittish animals, establish a routine for them to follow. This does not mean that they need to follow a strict minute by minute plan for the day. It does mean that feeding should be around the same time each day. Your livestock should also get used to seeing the same people at the same time of the day.
No matter how tame your animals are they are still have territorial instincts. Both males and females can be very protective of their area and younger animals. They have strong maternal traits and stand their ground when they are not accustomed to their surroundings. Bulls actually account for more than half of the livestock injuries and deaths. Use extreme caution when working with male livestock. Special facilities should be created to house males and eliminate the amount of time spent in the pen.
When working with animals it is also best to have a plan of action. Know what you need to do, how you will do it, and what are possible scenarios that could happen. For example, if you have to go into a corral with a mother and her newborn, know the plan of action before stepping foot in the pen. It is always best to plan an escape route as well. This could come in handy if the mother feels threatened or becomes territorial and shows off her maternal characteristics by coming after you. Plan ahead and know your way out to decrease the chance of injury.
If you need to take a closer look at your livestock, make sure you announce your presence before getting too close. If livestock are not aware of you when entering their pen, they can become frightened very easily. Talk to the animal quietly while entering the pen. This will eliminate any skittish behavior.
Livestock facilities design is also important to insure the animal’s safety and can minimize startled animals. Many injuries come from poor facilities and equipment. Concrete flooring with a grooved surface, correct drainage, sturdy fencing, eradicating sharp objects, and even lighting should be part of proper handling. Keeping equipment and facilities in good working order is a key part of livestock handling safety.
Finally, respect the livestock you own and do not fear them. The livestock are there to provide you with food and a profit. Know your animals and understand their behavior characteristics to properly take care of them. When you understand behavior it will be easier to work with them. Respect their size, capability, and strength and be alert at all times.
In conclusion, when working with livestock it is best to stay calm and have a quiet voice, avoid blind spots and announce your presence if you need to get close. Also caretakers should keep as close to a routine as possible and have a plan of action when working with livestock. Keep in mind that animals still have territorial instincts and could be dangerous for the caretaker. Respect your animals and do not fear them. These tips will help you put safety first when working with livestock.
Animal Science Educator
Penn State Cooperative Extension
Berks and Schuylkill County
1238 County Welfare Road
Leesport, PA 19533