Animals are handled daily on nearly half of
New York farms. In the Northeast, animal
handling mishaps rank second in reported
farm accidents. Every year at least one New
York farmer dies as a direct result of a
confrontation with a farm animal. An
understanding of animal behavior is essential
to pre- venting these accidents. Handlers must
be aware of how animals react to different
situations and know how to avoid or control
potentially dangerous predicaments.
Smell, Hearing, Sight
Most livestock rely heavily on their senses of
smell, hearing, and to a lesser extent, sight.
The sense of smell is particularly important to
animals, and they will often react to odors
that people cannot detect. Cattle may be lured
by the smell of freshly mown hay, or a bull
may become aggressive if he detects a cow in
heat. Odors can trigger defensive reactions in
livestock, especially females with newborns.
Animals have extremely sensitive hearing.
They hear high-pitched sounds better than
humans and loud high- pitched noises often
frighten or excite them.
Cattle and sheep see objects in black and
white. Cattle have a panoramic field of vision,
which means they can see everything around
them except what is directly behind their
hindquarters. If approached from the rear, they
may be startled. Cattle have limited depth
perception and judge distance poorly.
Shadows may appear as holes, so they
sometimes balk at sharp contrasts in light.
Chute and alley walls should have flat
surfaces to minimize this reaction.
Diffuse lighting, which reduces
bright spots and shadows, helps
quiet animals. Livestock
comfortably from dark
to light areas than the
People who regularly work with livestock
realize that each animal has its own
personality, however, certain animal
behaviors are predictable.
- Most animals respond to calm,
gentle, and consistent handling.
- Livestock become uneasy or skittish
when their ordinary routines or
familiar surroundings change.
- Animals have a definite social order.
Dominant animals have first choice of
feed, location, and direction of travel.
Crowding a subordinate animal
against a dominant one during
handling may disrupt their social
structure and cause an unpredictable
and dangerous response.
- Domestic livestock, especially cattle
and sheep, are herd animals. They
may become agitated or stressed
when isolated and will try to return to
- Livestock detect people by their
movement, which is much more
important to animals than what is
moving, or the location, color, or
identity of the moving object. A
handler's excited or aggressive
movements may cause animals to
stop and watch the activity rather
than respond to the handling.
Therefore, it is important to move
calmly and steadily when handling
An animal's gender and breed also
affect its behavior. Because of their
weight, strength, and inconsistent
temperament, bulls, in particular, require
extra caution and consideration. Even a
bull's playful activity can easily injure or
kill a person. Bulls require special facilities that allow them to feed,
drink, exercise, and breed without direct
contact with handlers. Females can be as
dangerous as bulls when their young are
There are four common types of animal
- Animal steps on handler
- Animal slips and falls on handler
- Animal pins or squeezes handler
against a barrier
- Animal kicks handler
By employing practical experience
and adhering to a few general rules,
handlers can prevent most accidents and
- Move calmly, deliberately, and
patiently. Avoid quick movements or
loud noises that may startle animals.
- Do not alter the daily routine or the
animals' living conditions. Animals
often balk at anything out of the
- Always leave an escape route when
working in close quarters with
- Avoid startling an animal. Make it
aware of your approach before
getting too close to it.
All animals, domesticated or wild, can be
sources of human illness and parasitic
infection. Diseases that can be
transmitted from animals to humans are
known as zoonoses. Infections may
result from direct or indirect contact with
diseased animals, their manure, their
urine, and their bedding, or through
animal products (milk, meat, hides, hair).
Infection may take the form of
intestinal diseases, respiratory disorders,
general ill health, or skin rashes. Table I
lists the most common transmittable
Personal Protective Equipment
Handlers can protect themselves from
injury by wearing appropriate safety
equipment, which is simple to use and
Foot injuries are common when
handling any type of livestock. Sturdy
steel-toed shoes will protect feet if they
are stepped on. Boots should have nonskid
soles to prevent falls when working
in stick areas.
Transmittable Diseases and Their Prevention
||Route of Transmission
||Symptoms in Humans
||Transmitted by the saliva of
infected animal through a bite,
open wound, or sore.
||This disease attacks the central
nervous system. Symptoms
include headache, irritability,
fever, and excess salivation. As
the disease progresses, other
symptoms include spastic
skeletal muscle contractions,
convulsions, respiratory failure,
and eventual death.
||Refrain from handling small
animals around the form, unless
they are immunized. Wear
gloves when feeding calves and
when treating sick animals.
|Brucellosis (Bang’s Disease)
||Transmitted to humans in raw
(unprocessed) milk, aborted
fetuses or afterbirth from an
infected animal, or from an
infected carcass at time of
||The acute stage mimics
influenza (high fever, chills, body
aches), fatigue, night sweats,
Headaches and occasionally
diarrhea, weight loss, and
||Good sanitation reduces the
chance that the herd will be
||Inhaled from surroundings
contaminated by animals that
excrete the organism with uterine
discharges and placentas.
||Acute fever, headache, and
weakness following an
incubation period of 2-4 weeks.
Productive cough (phlegm) and
chest pain is common.
||High risk livestock should be
vaccinated. Good sanitation
reduces the possibility of
contracting this disease.
||Transmitted to humans from
contact with animal urine.
||Chills, fever, body aches,
nausea, vomiting, jaundice, skin
rash, stiff neck, and muscle
tenderness commonly found in
lower legs, thighs, and lumbar
||Milking parlors should have
splash guards in place to prevent
||Transmitted by direct contact
with infected animal.
||Ringworm is a fungal infection. It
is characterized by raised,
reddened areas that form small,
||Proper sanitation after handling
helps to prevent this disease.
contaminated feed or water from
wild or domestic animals and
||Severe gastrointestinal distress
(nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and
abdominal pain) and fever.
||Good sanitation and proper
storage, handling, and cooking of
animal-derived foods will reduce
the risk of poisoning.
||Transmitted by consumption of
uncooked or partially cooked
||This parasite can be painful and
sometimes fatal to humans.
(nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and
abdominal pain) are early
symptoms. As the disease
progresses, it migrates into the
muscle tissue and causes
||Always thoroughly cook pork to
prevent this disease.
||Transmission normally occurs
through the bite of a deer tick.
||Symptoms usually develop within
2-30 days of the tick bite. Asmall
red bump may appear near the
bite and enlarge into a spreading
red ring. This is followed by
general ness including fever,
chills, headache, and backache.
Palpitations, di77iness, and
shortness of breath may also
occur. Untreated cases may
advance into rheumatoid,
arthritic, or cardiac problems.
||Exposed skin should be
protected. Pants should be
tucked into socks. Examine skin
carefully after possible exposure.
Antibiotics can be successful
during the early stages of this
To protect against contracting or
transmitting diseases through skin
contact, handlers should wear disposable
rubber latex gloves when treating sick
animals or assisting with births.
A dust mask, preferably one carrying
the NIOSH approval #TC-21C prefix,
should be worn when working in dusty
conditions. Repeated and prolonged exposure to agricultural dusts can cause
short-term reactions and lead to
respiratory diseases such as "farmer's
Badly designed facilities or those in poor
repair are responsible for many injuries to
humans and animals. Proper
planning should precede construction or
renovation of livestock facilities. Key
considerations include ventilation,
traction, proper access for animals and
people, and escape routes for handlers.
Ventilation is extremely important for
the health and safety of workers and
livestock. Inadequate ventilation can
cause dangerous buildups of toxic gases, including ammonia, carbon
dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and methane.
The following precautions are
- Do not allow workers near the
manure pit during agitation.
- If possible, remove livestock from
nearby buildings during manure
- Ensure that adequate ventilation is
provided in both the pit and the
building during agitation.
- Install a warning system that signals
a ventilation failure to alert workers to
the possible accumulation of toxic
Other recommendations to make
livestock facilities safer include the
- Keep floors clutter free to prevent
trips and falls. High traffic areas
should be roughened or grooved.
Sloping floors promote adequate
- Make fences and gates strong
enough to withstand crowded
conditions. Livestock areas should be
free of sharp projections such as
broken boards, nails, or wire.
- Be sure that solid-walled chutes and
alleys are wide enough to allow
animals to pass, but not wide enough
to let them turn around.
- Provide diffuse interior lighting to
reduce bright spots and shadows. Use restraining equipment that is
designed to minimize animal
movement and injuries.
- Incorporate escape routes and safety
passes into livestock facilities so that
workers can quickly exit when the
Some farm animals can behave
dangerously or create hazardous
situations when they are improperly
handled. Understanding animal behavior
is one important step toward avoiding
accidents. To further reduce the
possibility of illness or injury to animal
handlers, use correct handling
procedures, proper sanitation, personal
protective equipment, and make sure that
livestock facilities are properly designed
Lightning Protection for Farms
Electrical Safety on the Farm
Power Take-Off Safety
Safe Farm Environments for Children
Slow Moving Vehicle Emblems
This publication is issued to further Cooperative
Extension work mandated by acts of Congress of
May 8 and June 30, 1914. It was produced with the
cooperation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture;
Cornell Cooperative Extension; the New York State
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, New York
State College of Human Ecology, and New York
State College of Veterinary Medicine, at Cornell
Designer: Dennis F. Kulis
Editor: David A. Poland
Illustrations by Jim Houghton
For additional information: call 1-877-257-9777
Cornell Agricultural Health & Safety Program
Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in
NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in
NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder.