With winter approaching, we have more opportunities to work with our livestock in a more confined setting. Handling livestock can sometimes be stressful for both people and the animals. A lot depends on our attitude, methods, and our understanding of how an animal behaves. Trying to load a balky horse into a trailer, gathering or herding animals in a pasture, or trying to pen or catch animals for treatment can all be stressful situations and even unsafe at times for all involved.
Safety becomes an important issue when handling livestock. Livestock safety applies to both the animal and the animal handler. It involves much more than simply “being careful” around livestock. In fact, many livestock accidents are not directly related to the animals themselves but are caused by improper use of equipment and poorly-maintained or poorly-built facilities.
People tend to give animals human qualities and forget that animals quickly revert to primal reflex reactions when they are threatened or under stress. Animals will fiercely defend their food, shelter, territory, and young. This is especially important to remember during late winter and early spring when livestock may be giving birth. When frightened or in pain, animals may react in ways that threaten their and our health and safety. While livestock fatalities are not nearly as frequent as deaths involving tractors or machinery, animals are involved in more total accidents and with more work related accidents. Typical animal-caused injuries to the handler range from cuts and sprains from falls, to broken bones and whole body injuries from being kicked, pushed, shoved, or run over by an animal.
Livestock handlers must be fully aware of the different ways livestock and humans react to certain situations. Handlers must remain in control of potentially dangerous situations and avoid actions which make them vulnerable to injury. The more predictable our actions, the less likely we are to injure livestock or be injured. The better we understand livestock, the less risk of the animals harming us or themselves.
Observing animals to determine their temperament can alert the handler to possible danger. These signs include raised or pinned ears, raised tail or hair on the back, bared teeth, pawing the ground, and snorting. Male animals are always dangerous. Males of some breeds are more aggressive than others, but protective females, especially new mothers, can be just as dangerous. Often injuries occur from animals that do not openly exhibit aggression or fear. This reaction may be triggered by excitement caused, for example, by a person walking nearby. Typical injuries from this type of situation are usually a result of being kicked, bitten, stepped on, or squeezed between the animal and a solid structure as the animal tries to flee.
Treat livestock with respect. Always know where you are and where the animal is in relation to you when you are working with livestock. Never overlook warning signs exhibited by animals being handled.
An ounce of patience when handling livestock will be worth a pound of good working relationship when farm animals are concerned. Take time to understand how animals respond to various situations. This understanding should reduce the potential for accidents.
(By Steve Tonn, Nebraska Extension Educator - Livestock; Source: Introduction to Livestock Safety, Auburn University)