Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Stay alert to stay unhurt around cattle

By David Burton
University of Missouri Extension

In recent years, a number of local cattle handlers have been attacked by a cow or bull according to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

Although the majority of the attacks did not result in fatalities, there have been many bruises, broken bones and crushed egos.

“Most of the victims have been experienced cattle producers, veterinarians, agriculture educators and even extension specialists,” said Cole. “I imagine they’re wiser and more cautious as a result of the attack.”

Statistics support the fact that farming is one of the most dangerous occupations.


According to Amanda Marney, agriculture preparedness specialist, University of Missouri Extension, national data shows livestock, machinery and falls as the dominant sources of occupational injury on farms.

“In fact, some studies show that up to one-third of injuries on the farm are associated with livestock,” said Marney. “While many cattle are placid, they weigh over six times the weight of a man and can crush bones with a single kick, step or charge.”

It is important that all livestock owners recognize the different behavior factors when working around livestock.

“While there were no fatalities that have been recently reported to extension centers here in southwest Missouri, this is not the case for our state and region,” said Marney.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study that documented farm worker fatalities in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. There were 21 cattle-related deaths in these four states from 2003 to 2008. Of these deaths, 13 involved attacks by individual bulls, six involved attacks by individual cows and five involved multiple cattle.


According to Cole, the attacks reported to him have resulted from animals that had never acted aggressive toward their owners before.

“Some may even have been show animals that were broke to load or otherwise were very docile,” said Cole.

Victims usually can recall that on the day of the attack some unusual circumstances could have caused the animal to blow up, according to Cole.

“Cows are more prone to do this if you’re doing something to their newborn calf and you get between the cow and her baby. Dogs may irritate her and she could take out her frustrations on the nearest intruder which could be the owner,” said Cole.

Bulls tend to become aggressive around cows that are in heat or when other bulls invade their spaces.

“Don’t assume that an animal that’s halter broken or that you’ve petted out in the pasture won’t have a bad day and their hormones take over. When this occurs, bulls or cows can surprise you at how fast they move,” said Cole. “Your big beef or dairy bull may not be as fast but they will be quicker than you expect.”


Cole says there are several tips that can be followed to help avoid injuries from cows or bulls.

“For starters, always be careful around livestock and have an escape route planned such as going under or over a fence or through a man pass,” said Cole.

It is also a good idea to carry some device that offers some protection in case of attack. Even though dogs can provoke an animal they can also sometimes help the owner escape.

Nose rings in bulls can help control cattle in some situations.

“Remember, you’re not getting any younger, and may not move as quickly as you once did,” said Cole. “It is also a good idea to have another person with you when working with newborns or moving bulls.”

Cole also says it is important to cull animals that act aggressive. “Temperament or docility is a heritable trait and if you fear some animals in your herd are inheritantly mean, pay more attention to that trait when you select replacements. A few breed associations even have docility EPDs,” said Cole.

Another recommendation is to not be in a hurry and end up being careless. “Easy-does-it” is a good policy around livestock.

“You also need to keep fences and gates in good repair and sturdy enough to protect you and your help,” said Cole.


For more information, contact any of the MU Extension livestock specialists in southwest Missouri: Eldon Cole in Mt. Vernon, (417) 466-3102; Gary Naylor in Dallas County, (417) 345-7551; and Dona Goede in Cedar County, (417) 276-3313.

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