Animal Safety on the Farm

National Farm Safety Week
March 14 – 20, 2017

With the final days of winter stretching into the first vestiges of spring, farming season can’t be too close behind. Farm owners and workers across the country are starting to ramp back up to full operating power, dusting off the machines and preparing for the industry’s busier seasons.

This year, as part of National Farm Safety Week, March 14–20, the Canada Safety Council wants to remind farmers to be careful and attentive while out in the fields, especially when it comes to handling livestock.

According to Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting, there have been 65 animal-related fatalities between 2003 and 2012, accounting for 8 per cent of all fatalities. This is the largest non-machine-related factor in farm deaths. Of these fatalities, more than half involved horses, stallions and colts, with another 45 per cent involving cows, bulls, steers and calves. 

Each animal is different, and has its own distinct personality and attitudes. Being familiar with the animal you’re handling is of paramount importance to reduce the risk. If you have a general sense of how an animal is expected to react, it will make it much easier to detect when something feels wrong or the animal is uncomfortable, anxious, or even aggressive.

Additionally, take care to always operate efficiently and calmly around animals. Many creatures will take their cue from you, the worker. If you’re agitated, nervous or tense, the animal will reciprocate. Being confident and calm will likely elicit these responses in return and make your task much easier.

Horses are by nature inclined to ignore their confines and seek to escape when startled or fighting amongst themselves. This makes it important to always ensure their enclosures are well kept. This includes high fences – at least 4.5 or 5 feet – to discourage any jumping attempts, as well as strongly reinforced fence posts that are sturdy and braced to resist any attempts by the horse to push on them.

When attempting to lead a horse, always use a lead rope and halter. Do not attempt to lead a horse simply by holding the halter, especially not if the horse in question has a known bad temperament. Remaining to the side of the horse, rather than in front of it, will prevent getting trampled on. You should also take care not to lead a stallion past mares, as this may result in an agitated reaction that will make the horse much more difficult to lead safely. 

Of the 55 per cent of horse-related fatalities, approximately one-third of them were non-work-related, and often involved horseback riding. When riding, ALWAYS wear a helmet.

Exercise caution when a horse is exhibiting any of the following behaviours:

  • Swishing its tail. This means irritation. Often times, this behavior is exhibited when there are bugs nearby, but the animal could just as easily be irritated with you.
  • Ears flat against the head. This signals aggression. Ears that are peaked forward indicate that the horse is focused on something ahead of it, while ears that are peaked backward indicate there’s something behind the animal that has piqued its interest. In all cases, exercise caution.
  • Tense body. If the horse is tense, it’s because it’s on alert and unsure of something. If it’s tense and has its leg cocked, it could be taking aim at something. Watch out. Alternatively, if its leg is cocked but its muscles are not tense, the animal may just be resting.

When dealing with cattle, it’s important to remember above all that they are herd animals. This naturally provides a problem for dairy bulls, who are often kept in isolation by necessity and can result in negative behaviour patterns being formed. When it’s possible, limit the time in which the cattle are separated from their herd. Keep the herd nearby if you absolutely have to move the animal.

The most important things to avoid around cattle are loud noises and sudden movements, especially near the rear of the animal. Instinctively, a cow will kick back and to its sides, in an area known as its kick zone, to defend itself. Avoid this by approaching the animal at its shoulder and using a low, confident tone to speak to it or to others.  

Be aware of the animals’ positioning. When multiple bulls share a common area, they establish a hierarchy of sorts. A bull may bolt unexpectedly to avoid the superior animal. Awareness is the key so you can avoid putting yourself in such a circumstance.

Farm-related fatalities typically start trending upward around April, making it that much more important to be aware of safety issues early and to educate yourself on them often. Happy farming! 

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For more information, please contact:

Lewis Smith
Communications and Media Program Coordinator
613-739-1535 x228