of the types of animals you raise on your farm, complacency
and the feeling of being safe in their presence may leave you
off guard. Injuries usually occur when the victim does not expect
it and all animals should be considered unpredictable. A lack
of knowledge of animal behavior could put a handler into dangerous
situations. Thousands of animal related injuries occur each
year, some even resulting in death. Don't overlook the importance
of safety around livestock, particularly with inexperienced
employees and family members.
Some of the most common injuries include being stepped on by
large animals, being knocked down , kicked, thrown while riding,
or pinned between the animal and a hard surface. Many injuries
also occur each year from bites.
What can you do to prevent animal injuries? Proper equipment
and handling facilities for your type of operation are a must.
Larger animals, in particular need equipment that is able to
restrain them for general maintenance or health care.
Pens should be equipped with a man-gate or other means egress
if necessary. Crowding animals into sorting or working chutes
should be done with crowd gates, not with drivers.
Catwalks along chutes and alleys eliminate the need for working
in the alley. If the catwalk is more than 18" or so off the
ground, it should be protected by a guardrail to prevent falls.
Walking or working surfaces should be free of tripping and slipping
hazards for both animals and workers. Eliminate protrusions
and sharp corners. Lighting in handling and housing facilities
should be even and diffused. Bright spots mixed with shadows
in alleys and crowding pens will often cause cattle to balk.
Guard the moving parts of a hydraulically operated squeeze chute
and tilt table. Use solid panels for moving swine.
Loading ramps and handling chutes ideally should have solid
side- walls to prevent animals from seeing outside distractions
with their wide-angle vision. Blocking vision will also help
stop escape attempts. Sight reduction also lowers stress levels,
thus having a calming effect on the animal.
Pigs, sheep, and cattle have a tendency to move from a dimly
lit area to a more brightly-lit area, provided the light does
not hit them directly in the eyes. A spotlight directed on the
ramp will often help keep the animals moving.
Loud, abrupt noises, such as the sound of banging metal can
cause distress in livestock. You may wish to install rubber
bumpers on gates and squeeze chutes to reduce noises.
The sense of smell is extremely important to animals, especially
between females and newborns. Often animals react to odors we
do not detect. For example, sheep may be lured by the smell
of freshly mown hay or a bull may become aggressive when he
detects a cow in heat.
Handling facilities should be painted in one color only, since
all species of livestock are likely to balk at a sudden change
in color or texture.
All livestock tend to refuse to walk over a drain, grate, hose,
puddle, shadow, or any change in flooring texture or surface.
All these factors need to be considered when evaluating or planning
livestock handling facilities. To reduce the risk of falls,
provide slip-resistant footing for workers and livestock with
roughened concrete ramp and floor surfaces.
Animals experience hunger, thirst, fear, sickness, injury
and strong maternal instincts. They also develop individual
behavior patterns such as kicking or biting. The handler should
be aware of these behaviors and take necessary safety precautions,
include using personal protective equipment.
Beef, swine and dairy cattle are generally colorblind and
have poor depth perception. This results in an extreme sensitivity
to contrasts, which may cause an animal to balk at shadows or
rapid changes from light to dark. Sheep are also considered
colorblind, but do have good depth perception. Instead, Sheep
have difficulty picking out small details, such as the open
space created by a partially opened gate.
Horses and Mules commonly kick toward their hindquarters,
while cow's kick forward and out to the side Cows also have
a tendency to kick toward a side with pain from inflammation
or injuries. For example, if a dairy cow is suffering from mastitis
in one quarter, consider approaching her from the side of the
Livestock with young exhibit a maternal instinct. They are
usually more defensive and difficult to handle. When possible,
let the young stay as close to the adult as possible when handling.
Most animals have a strong territorial instinct and develop
a very distinctive, comfortable attachment to areas such as
pastures and buildings, water troughs, worn paths and feed bunks.
Forcible removal from these areas can cause animals to react
Considering these animal traits, it is easy to understand why
animals often hesitate when going through unfamiliar gates,
barn doors, and handling and loading chutes. Similar problems
occur when animals are moved away from feed, separated from
the herd or approached by an unfamiliar person.
Moving or flapping objects can also disrupt handling. A cloth
or coat swinging in the wind or turning fan blades can cause
animals to balk. Movement at the end of a chute can cause them
to refuse to be herded.
Yelling should be kept to a minimum when working with livestock
to enable the animal to feel secure.
Be cautious around animals that are blind or deaf on one side.
They favor that side and can suddenly swing around to investigate
disturbances. If standing too close, a person could easily be
knocked down and trampled.
Animals respond to the way they are treated and draw upon
past experiences when reacting to a situation. For example,
animals that are chased, slapped, kicked, hit or frightened
when young will naturally fear being approached.
Personal Protective Equipment appropriate to the work situation
should be worn. This could include safety glasses, gloves, long
trousers, steel-toed shoes or boots, shin guards and a hard
hat. It is also important to wear the proper footwear when around
livestock. Footwear that supplies the proper foot support and
protection is essential. For instance, one misplaced hoof of
a 1500-pound cow can easily break the bones of the human foot
encased in a pair of running shoes.
Wear rubber gloves when working with sick and injured animals
as well as other protective clothing for protection. Practice
personal hygiene by washing your hands and face after handling
Handlers should also be concerned with zoonotic diseases, which
are illnesses that can be transmitted between humans and animals.
Leptospirosis, rabies, brucellosis, salmonellosis and ringworm
are especially important.
To reduce exposure to disease, use basic hygiene and sanitation
practices, which include prompt treating or disposal of infected
animals, adequate disposal of infected tissues, proper cleaning
of contaminated sites, and proper use of personal protective
The proper approach to a large animal is critical to working
with them safely. Most large animals can see at wide angles
around them, but there is a blind spot directly behind their
hindquarters beyond which they cannot see.
Any movement in this "blind spot" will make the animal uneasy
The safest approach is to "announce" your approach through
a touch to their front or side. (See figure 1)
Most large animals will kick in an arch beginning toward the
front and moving toward the back. Avoid this kicking region
when approaching the animal (See figure 2)
A frightened cow or horse will plow right over you. It is
safer to use proper handling facilities made specially for separating
large animals. Most animals will be more cooperative in moving
through a chute that has minimal distractions.
When you are inside a handling facility or milking lane, always
leave yourself a way to get out if it becomes necessary. Try
to avoid entering a small area enclosed with large animals unless
it is equipped with a mangate that you can get to easily. Never
prod animals if they have no place to go.
- Keeping your work area clean and free of debris will
help provide a safe working environment. Check for and eliminate
any sharp corners or protrusions in walkways. Check to ensure
that all latches and levers can't fly open easily. Clean
concrete ramps and floors regularly to prevent slips and
trips. Keep pitchforks and other sharp tools stored properly
out of walkways
- Accidents with beef cattle tend to occur while the victim
is handling the livestock. Beef cattle are known for an
even disposition, but can startled, and inflict injury to
anyone in their way. Groups of animals are easy to "spook."
Bovines can see nearly 360 degrees without moving their
heads. Therefore, a quick movement behind is just as apt
to "set them off" as a frontal one.
- Dairy cows may look contented in the pasture, but they
are generally more nervous than other animals. Creatures
of habit, they are easily startled, especially by strange
noises and persons.
- Always announce your presence when approaching a cow.
Gently touch the animal rather than let the first contact
be a bump or shove .
- When moving cows into a constraining space such as a
milking parlor stall or squeeze chute, give them time to
adjust before starting the work at hand.
- If a cow tends to kick, consider using a hobble. Don't
permit workers to talk loudly, clatter and bang equipment
around or handle cows roughly. Gentle cows can become dangerous
when defending calves and this fact should be impressed
to children, visitors and new workers.
- Special facilities should be provided so that a bull
can be fed, watered, exercised and used for breeding without
the handler coming into direct contact with him.
- Once you have moved dairy cattle into the milking stalls,
give them a moment to adapt to the new environment before
beginning your operation. Although cattle are not apt to
attack you, they can overwhelm you with their size and weight.
Leave yourself an "out" when trying to corner or work with
- Keep small children and strangers out. Beware of the
area in front of the rear leg when working with cattle.
They tend to kick forward, then back. Pulling the kicking
leg forward can be used as a means of preventing a kick
while working in the udder or flank area range.
Though hogs are not normally aggressive animals, they can
become dangerous animals if threatened, especially sows protecting
The best method by which to move hogs is by guiding them with
gates and/or panels.
Veterinary work and treatment of pigs should be done only
when they are separated from the sow, or when she is restrained
in the crate or a separate pen.
Your best safety aid for the jobs is a lightweight hurdle
or solid panel with a handle attached. The panel should be slightly
narrower than the alleys through which the animals are being
As with most animals, make yourself known quietly and gently
to avoid startling your hogs. A knock on the door or rattling
the door handle will usually suffice.
Don't let small children reach through pens or fences to pet
or feed hogs. Keep unauthorized people out of pens or away from
the facility altogether. Bio security can be an important issue.
Horses detect danger through their vision, sense of smell
and keen sense of hearing. They have wide-angle vision, but
they also have blind spots directly behind and in front of themselves
For example, when it lifts its head and pricks its ears, it
is focusing on something far away. The horse lowers its head
when focusing on low, close objects. Keep these blind spots
in mind and know where your horse's attention is focused so
you do not scare it.
Your horse's ears will give you clues; they will point in
the direction in which its attention is focused. Ears that are
"laid back," or flattened backward, warn you that the horse
is getting ready to kick or bite.
Always work with calm but deliberate movements around horses.
Nervous handlers can make horses nervous, creating unsafe situations.
When catching a horse, approach from its left shoulder. Move
slowly but confidently, speaking to the horse as you approach.
Read the horse's intention by watching its body language.
Be careful when approaching a horse that is preoccupied, such
as when its head is in a hay manger.
When approaching a horse in a stall, speak to the horse to
get its attention and wait until it turns and faces you before
entering and make sure the horse moves over before you walk
in beside it.
Speak to your horse and keep your hands on it when moving
around it. Even if a horse is aware of your presence, it can
be startled by quick movements.
When approaching from the rear, advance at an angle speaking
to the horse, making sure you have its attention. Touch it gently
as you pass by its hindquarters.
Hold the lead line with your right hand, 8 to 10 inches away
from the horse's head, while holding the end, or bight, of the
line with your left hand. Always use a lead line so you have
this "safety zone" and to prevent getting a hand caught in the
Teach your horse to walk beside you so that you are walking
at its left shoulder, with your right elbow near the horse's
shoulder so you can anticipate its actions.
Do not let the horse "walk" you. Do not allow it to get behind
you either, as it could jump into you if spooked.
To lead a horse through a doorway, you should step through
first, then quickly step to the side out of the horse's way.
Keep an eye on it, as some horses try to rush through narrow
Never wrap any piece of equipment attached to a horse around
your hand, even with small loops, as it could wrap around the
hand and cause serious injury.
After you remove the halter, make the horse stand quietly
for several seconds before letting it go completely. This will
help prevent the horse from developing a habit of bolting away
and kicking at you in the process.
Some horses can become sour and begin nipping at you if they
anticipate discomfort during grooming. Do not hurry the grooming
procedure, especially with a young or spooky horse. Stay near
the horse and keep a hand on it at all times so you can anticipate
Do not climb over or under the lead line of a tied horse.
The horse may pull back and cause you to trip over the line,
and you will have no quick escape should the horse lunge forward,
paw or try to bite. Never walk under the belly of any horse.
A common accident involving sheep is being butted by a ram.
Ewes will also protect their young and should be handled carefully.
A sheep can be immobilized for safe handling by sitting it up
on its rump and the ground.
information and recommendations contained in this publication
are believed to be reliable and representative of contemporary
expert opinion on the subject material. The Farm Safety Association
Inc. does not guarantee absolute accuracy or sufficiency of
subject material, nor can it accept responsibility for health
and safety recommendations that may have been omitted due to
particular and exceptional conditions and circumstances.
Copyright © 2002 Farm Safety Association Inc. 22-340 Woodlawn
Road West, Guelph, Ontario (519) 823-5600.
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.