Farm safety stressed in handling cattle, calves

~courtesy of The Scranton Journal

Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations there is. That fact was illustrated recently with the death of a Guthrie Center farmer.

According to Guthrie County Sheriff Marty Arganbright, Jack I Larson, 70, of Guthrie Center suffered fatal injuries on Friday, April 12. Larson was working with a newborn calf, securing it in the bucket of the loader on a tractor. The mother cow attacked him, causing serious injuries which resulted in his death.

“We’ve got to be careful around animals, especially cattle who are calving,” said Arganbright who also raises cattle. “You never know which one is going to be mean. They can do a lot of damage.

“They’re just trying to do what’s natural, protecting their baby,” added Arganbright. “You can’t trust any of them.”

Guthrie Center farmer Dennis Menefee is a long-time beef producer. He knows how dangerous a mother cow can be when protecting her baby calf. Recently, Menefee was using this calf catcher attached to an all terrain vehicle to safely separate the newborn calf from its mother so he could check and identify the baby. Mother Cow was not cooperating as she was determined to keep her calf safe.

He suggested that beef producers should never work with the animals alone. “Always take someone with you, although I know that’s not always possible,” continued Arganbright. “But always be aware. Be ready for them.”

The Department of Animal Science at Colorado State University recommends that people working around large animals should speak softly with a low tone of voice. High-pitched noise is disturbing to many animals.

Herd animals such as cattle often become agitated and fearful when a lone animal is separated from the herd. Add the motherly instinct to protect their baby and the animal becomes increasingly aggressive.

A single animal that is frantically attempting to rejoin the herd can be very dangerous. Each animal has a flight zone or safety zone which depends upon its degree of wildness or tameness. Cattle that are seldom worked by people will have a large flight zone.

The report says the size of the flight zone is determined by three interacting factors: genetic traits (excitable versus calm); amount of contact with people (daily or rarely) and the quality of contact with people (negative versus positive).

Grazing animals with large flight zones may become fearful and agitated when a person penetrates their flight zone, especially when they are in a confined space and unable to get away.

Production agriculture consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous of all American industries. A recent National Safety Council study ranks beef cattle farms and dairy operations as second and third respectively among all agricultural enterprises in the number of injuries per hour of work. Animals are involved in 17 percent of all farm injuries.

Farmers must always be on guard when working with or around animals.

Cattle have panoramic vision which means they can see everything except something that is directly behind them, giving them a viewing range of 270 degrees while humans have a range of about 180 degrees. Sudden movements behind cattle will startle them.
People who work with animals recognize the ability of animals to communicate despite an inability to speak. Most species display characteristic signs for fear, aggression and contentment. Handlers should be sensitive to warnings evidenced by raised or pinned ears; raised tail; raised back hair; barred teeth; pawing the ground and / or snorting.

General handling rules for all animals include:

• Most animals respond favorably to routines with calm, deliberate responses.
• Avoid loud noises and quick movements.
• Be patient, never prod an animal when it has no place to go.
• Touching animals gently can be more effective than shoving them.
• Respect rather than fear livestock. Breeding stock are highly protective and often irritable. Disposition deteriorates with age. Old breeding stock can be cantankerous, deceptive, unpredictable and dangerous.
• Special facilities should be provided for breeding stock. Be especially careful around newborn animals and their mothers.
• Male animals should be considered potentially dangerous at all times.
• The size, mass, strength and speed of animals should never be taken lightly. Animals will defend their territory and should be worked around if possible.
• Always provide an escape route for yourself especially when working with sick or injured animals and / or under adverse conditions.
• Exercise extra care around strange animals and enforce extreme care if strangers are around your animals.
• Some animal handlers believe that animals are responsive to soothing talk, singing and / or hand signals.

“You can never be too careful during calving season,” said Mike Holden of Scranton, Greene County cattleman. “Take your time and make sure you stay safe when handling cattle.

“It’s a mother’s instinct to protect her baby and you can’t assume that any cow is tame. They are animals and they’re going to be protective of their calves,” added Holden. “If any of my cows is too protective, they’re gone. I don’t want to get into a situation where anyone can get hurt.”

The month of May is typically known as Beef Month when the Iowa Beef Industry Council and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association join with the local Cattlemen’s Association to promote their products. This year, it’s imperative that beef producers consider their own safety as they raise the cattle who feed the world.

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