4 Ways to Prioritize Safety When Handling Livestock
Ranching and farming are physically demanding and rewarding occupations, but there are inherent risks when working with livestock. Large animals, such as cattle, horses, sheep and pigs, can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous if not handled carefully.
Understanding the common risks and implementing proactive safety measures can significantly reduce the occurrence of injuries or illnesses when handling livestock.
1. Avoid Animal Handling Injuries by Following Safe Handling Best Practices
One of the most frequent sources of injuries on farms and ranches is a result of direct interactions with livestock. These injuries may result from animal kicks, bites, headbutts or crushing incidents.
Farmers and farm workers should undergo comprehensive training on livestock handling techniques and safety protocols. They should be familiar with the behaviors of different animals, understand their stress signals and learn how to respond appropriately in various situations.
In an effort to prevent animal handling injuries, consider these livestock safety handling tips:
Establish a routine
Move slowly and deliberately around livestock
Never prod an animal when it has nowhere to go
Touch animals gently and be aware of their “flight zone”
Avoid loud noises
Be extra careful around newborns as animals have strong maternal instincts
Always have an escape route when working in close quarters
The National Ag Safety Database (NASD) also offers additional resources on livestock handling safety techniques.
2. Prevent Trampling Incidents by Working in Well-Designed Handling Facilities
Large animals like cattle or horses can be territorial and easily startled, often resulting in trampling accidents, especially in crowded or stressful situations. To avoid these scenarios, maintain a safe distance and respect animals' personal space to avoid provoking aggression or spooking them. Approaching animals calmly and confidently also reduces the likelihood of a startled reaction.
Finally, implement proper crowd management strategies and invest in well-designed handling facilities to prevent injuries to livestock and workers. Such a facility should:
Minimize uneven walking surfaces
Have flooring that allows for drainage
Have grooved high traffic areas
Ensure fences and gates are strong enough to contain crowded livestock
Have alleys and chutes wide enough to allow animals to pass but not wide enough to allow them to turn
Offer proper ventilation to minimize hazards associated with gasses, dusts, chemicals, etc.
Be lit evenly with diffused light
The University of Missouri offers additional guidance on animal handling safety considerations.
3. Limit Zoonotic Diseases by Minimizing Spread of Germs
Livestock can transmit diseases to humans, known as zoonotic diseases. Examples include anthrax, brucellosis, E. coli, rabies, ringworm and Q fever. Following biosecurity practices and maintaining proper hygiene can help prevent the spread of these diseases.
Sick animals are more likely to spread harmful germs. Minimize the spread of germs by:
Managing housing, nutrition and stress
Keeping up-to-date with vaccinations and deworming
Practicing good biosecurity
Removing manure and dead animals in a timely manner
Washing your hands often
Wearing the appropriate personal protective clothing
Cleaning and disinfecting equipment
Minimizing exposure to insects, ticks and wildlife that can harm livestock and workers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers valuable information on zoonotic diseases and how to prevent them.
4. Reduce Risk by Remembering These Livestock Safety Tips
Always be aware of your surroundings when dealing with livestock. These animals can be potentially dangerous, and staying alert should always be top of mind. Here are a few more additional tips to consider:
Uneven terrain, slippery surfaces or obstacles can pose trip, slip and fall hazards
Always wear appropriate footwear with good traction
Implement low-stress handling techniques and designs to minimize animal handling injuries i.e. Bud Box design
Employ fixed restraining chutes to allow the handler to work without reaching over or through the chute
Use caution when vaccinating livestock as some vaccines are known to be fatal and/or toxic to humans
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