Think safety when working cattle
July 2, 2010
“Even experienced cattlemen and women can get hurt when dealing with cattle,” says Karl Hoppe, a livestock specialist at North Dakota State University’s Carrington Research Extension Center. “Young kids move too quickly and excite animals. The elderly don’t move fast enough and get too close to a placid cow’s flight zone.”
The flight zone is another name for danger zone. That’s the area in which a person is too close to the animal and is in danger of getting hurt or being killed if the cow moves in the person’s direction. Trampling and goring rarely occur but are possible.
Hoppe says people should consider the following to remain safe while working with cattle:
• Cattle are large and tend not to move unless they are provoked to move.
• Cattle that have had interaction with humans, such as through daily feeding, have a much smaller flight zone.
• Cattle have a smaller flight zone than a sheep and will let a person get closer before moving.
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• Cattle have huge eyes that are positioned on the sides of their head. They can see a lot but have poor depth perception unless you are standing directly in front of their nose.
• Cattle are large and can hurt you when crowded. Kicking is a favorite defense, followed by bunting and then running over you.
• Producers want cattle to become less afraid of humans, but shouting and moving quickly will frighten the animals.
• Cattle are rarely aggressive, but frightened cattle can become wild and aggressive. Cows will be protective of their newborns and bulls will protect their territory. Sick cattle also may show aggression.
• Livestock producers could try to gentle every animal as they would a calf for the county fair, but this usually isn’t practical. Gentling livestock also can be dangerous because a large cow or bull might try to play with you when you aren’t expecting it. A playful head push could mean broken bones or worse.
• Cattle can be trained to be moved and handled. Cattle are smarter than we expect and will respond to cues.
• Just like humans, cattle don’t like someone yelling at them. Reward cattle with quietness and respect. Quiet cattle aren’t nervous, and their handlers are less likely to get hurt when the animals are calm.
“Working smartly around cattle, watching their habits and looking for signs of being frightened (heads up, looking in your direction or another direction for escape, running) will help those working cattle avoid being trapped in a position where they can get hurt,” Hoppe says.