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Livestock handling safety

By Kent McGuire, Ohio State University Ag Safety and Health Coordinator

There are many activities during the summer that involve working with livestock. No matter if you are moving animals to different pastures, providing veterinary care, or youth working with 4-H animals for the fair, safety should be a priority when handling livestock. Animal behavior can be unpredictable at times and livestock can revert to instinctual reactions when they feel threatened or stressed. Individuals can be injured due to preoccupation, haste, impatience, or even anger. Injuries that are common when working with livestock include bites, kicks, being stepped on, pinned against a solid surface, or overcome by a single animal or the whole herd. Some general guidelines when working with livestock include:

  • Understand and study the typical behaviors of the livestock you are working with.
  • Herd livestock such as cattle or sheep can become agitated or stressed when one animal is isolated from the herd.
  • Maternal female livestock can become aggressive in an effort to protect their young.
  • Mature male livestock can become aggressive in an attempt to show dominance.
  • Understand aggressive warning signs such as showing of teeth, ears laid back, raised hair, snorting, or stomping of feet.
  • Recognize that livestock such as beef, swine, sheep and dairy cattle are generally colorblind and have poor depth perception, which may cause the animal to balk at contrasting shadows or rapid changes from light to dark.
  • Avoid startling an animal by making it aware of your approach before getting too close. Approach from an angle that you can be seen.
  • Move calmly, deliberately, and patiently. Avoid quick movements or loud noises that may startle animals.
  • Excessively changing of the animal’s environment or daily routine can take the animal out of their comfort zone.
  • Avoid being in travel paths during the feeding of a herd or large group of livestock.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and always leave an escape route when working in close quarters with livestock.
  • Be patient, and avoid frustration when working with difficult or stubborn livestock. Back injuries, muscle strains and slip /fall injuries can occur when frustrations lead to over aggressive handling practices.
  • Bottle fed or show livestock can become playful because of constant handling, After being placed back in with the general livestock as an adult, they may still approach you in a playful manner when you are not expecting it.
  • Use the proper personal protective equipment to prevent injuries and exposure to potential zoonotic illnesses.
  • Utilize good housekeeping practices in barns and livestock facilities to prevent slips, trips, or falls.
  • Plan ahead and consider your safety and the animal’s safety when loading, unloading, and trailering livestock.

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