Monday, March 8, 2010

How to safely work livestock

Farming, logging, and mining are the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. To work safely around livestock, especially cattle and horses, keep some safety tips in mind.

First, make sure the animal knows you’re there, especially if it’s a larger animal, such as a horse or a bull. Most prey animals, sheep, cattle, horses, etc have a field of vision almost 360 degrees around, but have a blind spot directly in between their eyes and directly behind them. Think of making a line down their spine. They can’t see straight out at the front of the line or straight out the back. Try to stay in their field of vision.

Move slowly. Don’t rush right up to an animal. If possible, let them come to you. Otherwise, hold out your hand, palm up, either with fingers open or loosely curled.

Be polite, but not submissive, be assertive, but not aggressive. It takes time to get used to how to move around livestock. Watch how they interact with one another. Squaring your posture and striding forward directly at the animal is considered aggressive. Less dominant animals will back down and shy away from you while more dominant animals may challenge back. Always be especially careful around animals with young offspring and intact males, such as rams or bulls. Males always feel the need to assert their dominance and mommas can interpret the wrong move as a threat to their offspring and take aggressive measures. Keep the offspring between you and its mother when working in these situations.

Don’t force the animal into a corner. Do you like being backed into a corner and forced to endure unwanted attentions? Didn’t think so. Most livestock doesn’t like that either. Use the animal’s natural sense of motion. Each individual animal has a natural “personal space” where they feel comfortable. Move into their personal space and they move away. Pressure and release. Use this if you need to administer health care or any time you’re working with animals. Use the proper equipment, such as sturdy gates, and be patient. It takes their eyes time to adjust going from a brightly lit outdoors to a dark barn. Let them take time to think.

Last, remember that they’re just animals. They’re perfectly suited to what they were adapted for. Horses were meant to flee from predators, surviving on their speed. Cattle were meant to either flee or fight predators, or both, and can be aggressive, not out of maliciousness, but because that’s what they’re evolved to do. Sheep are also meant to run from predators and have the strongest group-think mentality. In sum, think like a cow/sheep/horse/etc. Understanding the animal and its species history can help you understand their behaviors and adapt your own to suit. After all, humans are the ones with the big brains. We’re meant to adapt, not the animals.

Happy Farming!

A couple post-article thoughts: if moving a large animal, move toward their shoulder to get them to turn, at their hip and out of kicking distance to move them forward. Read Temple Grandin. Stay out of kicking distance when working. Don’t rush up on the animal. I know you want to pet the horsie, but the horsie thinks you’re trying to eat him. Approach him like a prey animal, not a Labrador retriever. A lab wants you climb all over him, a horse wants to be left alone. Kindness tempered by firmness and good observational skills will take you far when working with livestock.


Dana said...

Ax I really like this article. It shows how to work smarter not harder when dealing with livestock. Working stock shouldn't be a rodeo event gone sour.

Ax said...

@ Dana
Or end up with a bent showstick down your pants.