During the holiday season it can be easy to think about holiday plans and preparations and lose some focus when working with livestock, or perhaps you will have some non-farm family members or friends visiting and “helping” with livestock chores. This is just a reminder that injuries around livestock most often occur when we let our guard down, become complacent or distracted or are unaware of animal behavior and some of the risks involved with handling livestock. Some common human injuries due to livestock result from being stepped on by large animals, being knocked down, kicked, pinned between the animal and a hard surface or being bitten. About a month ago a work colleague was out feeding some of her sows and turned her back on a mother sow, who for whatever reason, rushed into her, and threw her into the air. She came down on her head, suffered a concussion and has still not been able to return to work.
Although your livestock may be the exception and pose no risk of harm, remember that animals, like people, have individual temperaments and can sometimes exhibit unpredictable behavior. For safety sake, keep some of these general animal behaviors and characteristics in mind: (From the Farm Safety Association “Handling Farm Animals Safely” fact sheet and the OSU Extension “Working Safely With Livestock” fact sheet.)
• Beef, swine and dairy cattle are generally colorblind and have poor depth perception. These animals are very sensitive to contrasts; explaining why they may balk at shadows, rapid changes from light to dark, or objects hanging from a post or rail. Cattle can’t see objects at the level of their feet without lowering their head. Stepping across a gutter, or into a foot bath can sometimes present a challenge. Sheep, while colorblind, actually have good depth perception. However sheep have difficulty picking out details such as gauging the space created by a partially opened gate.
• Cattle and horses have a panoramic field of vision meaning that they can see things all around them in about a 300 degree range without moving their heads. Their blind spot is immediately behind them. For this reason approaching directly behind these animals without letting them know you are approaching has more potential for an injury due to kicking than approaching from the side.
• Animal are very sensitive to noise and depending upon their familiarity with a particular noise can be easily frightened or spooked. For this reason, people recognized as good animal handlers commonly say to never work animals using more than a normal, conversational voice volume.
• Most livestock have a maternal instinct with their young that can make them more defensive and more difficult to handle.
• Livestock will respond to the way they are treated and will draw upon past experiences when reacting to a situation.
• Do what you can to prevent a possible injury from livestock by practicing the following:
– Most animals will respond to routine; be calm and deliberate.
– Announce your presence well in advance of getting close to an animal, to avoid startling it.
– Avoid quick movements or loud noises.
– Be patient; never prod an animal when it has nowhere to go.
– Move slowly and deliberately around livestock; gently touch animals rather than shoving or bumping them.
– Always provide yourself with an escape route when working with an animal in close quarters.