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Livestock handling and safety
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Livestock handling and safety

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Livestock pose one of the most serious safety threats to farmers. Although suckler cows can be at their most dangerous around calving time; every time they are handled they pose a serious threat.
Livestock pose one of the most serious safety threats to farmers. Although suckler cows can be at their most dangerous around calving time; every time they are handled they pose a serious threat.

One of the major factors surrounding the high level of injuries to farmers causes by livestock is the fact that the average age of the Irish farmer is continuing to increase. National farm survey data shows that the average age of a farmer in Ireland is 56, and over 25% of farmers are over 64 years of age. As the farming population gets older, there is an increasing risk of injury caused by livestock.

Handling suckler cows and calves

We are now approaching the peak of weanling sales around the country. At this stage of the year farmers are starting to wean calves from cows. While calving may be a high-risk period for cow aggression, weaning can also be a more risky period on farms. Immediate weaning can lead to more aggression by both the calf and the cow as they look for each other.

Where possible, a more staggered weaning process can be most beneficial to keep animals as settled as possible. Meal feeding cannot be over-estimated.

Along with benefits of maintaining high animal liveweight gains at weaning, it also gets calves into the habit of being handled by the farmer and moved.

Staggered weaning will help to reduce the stress on the cow and calf and keep them more settled. Where possible, on-off suckling before weaning, or separating calves from cows during the day, will also help to reduce the stress on animals at weaning and keep them more settled and safer for handling.

Where weanling bulls are left entire and are eight to 10 months around weaning and sale, extra care should be taken when moving or handling. Bulls can pose a serious risk to farmers, especially if they are not used to being moved or handled. Where you are considering loading bulls for the mart ring, ensure that the pen or handling facilities are secure.

High sides will stop cattle from trying to jump over the sides or gates within the pen. When the trailer is backed in, the loading door should securely close off the front of the pen so cattle cannot escape.

Never handle cattle on your own

Where possible, always have help at hand when moving or loading livestock or weanlings on to the trailer. Ensure you have a stick and pay particular attention when loading weanling bulls. The stick should be about 1m to 1.2m in length so that cattle can be prodded without coming into kicking distance of the animal handler. When cattle are moving within a pen, avoid standing in the centre and never turn your back on any of the cattle or bulls. Cattle pens should be designed in such a fashion as to allow the farmer to step out of the pen quickly if there is danger.

Safety in marts

Getting cattle to the mart is over half the battle, but your focus on safety should not end there. Marts can be very dangerous places.

Children and marts

The mart can be a very dangerous place for children. For that reason the Health and Safety Authority advises that children should not go into the yard or loading area of a mart or lairage. Children should be under the direct supervision of adults at all times while in a mart. Where children or minors are present in marts, they should not be involved in any work activity with cattle. It is vital that children be kept away from cattle in the lairage, and to stand clear of cattle moving from penning to or from the sales ring.

Use sky walks where available

Many livestock marts have invested heavily in providing sky walks over the cattle lairage and penning. Where they are in place, farmers are advised to use these where possible when viewing the stock on offer. Where children are in your supervision, using the sky walks available is essential in minimising the risk cattle pose to children.

Where farmers need to walk through the lairage or penning area, extreme caution should be taken. It is advised not to enter pens at any time when cattle are present. In addition, where cattle are being moved to or from the mart ring, or to the loading bays, farmers should stand clear and out of the path of the cattle in order to avoid the risk of injury.

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