No matter how long you’ve been around farm animals, and even though you consider many of them as pets, there always will be times when they’ll behave unpredictably. A sudden movement, a loud and strange noise, or even just the scent of a female animal in heat, picked up by a male, can elicit the most erratic behavior – endangering even the seasoned homesteader.
It’s always wise to make safety a priority. Who wants to be accidentally stepped on, knocked over, kicked, bitten, squished, head-butted or thrown off a large animal just because it got spooked, stressed out or over-excited by something? Sprains, bumps, bruises, bites, abrasions and all kinds of injuries can be avoided if precautionary measures are taken when working around livestock.
Every animal tends to have its own temperament above and beyond its breed characteristics, gender, size and training. It also tends to be irritable and aggressive when it’s hurt, isolated from the herd or brought to new surroundings. Mothers are extra protective when with their young, while males are particularly excitable when it’s mating season.
It’s best to approach each animal with care — especially if children, elderly, strangers or inexperienced guests and neighbors are around.
Here are a few tips to help you:
1. Always handle animals in a calm, non-threatening way. Approach them deliberately from the side where they can see you, but not directly from the front which they can misinterpret as aggression. Make it a habit to announce your arrival by calling or talking to them. Work calmly and confidently around large animals. They can sense the stress, anger and nervousness of humans, and that could make them uncomfortable, too. When milking, grooming or handling, touch them first on their front or side. Most animals have a wide range of view, but they have a blind spot around the rear. Touching them suddenly in the hindquarters could give them a jolt. This is especially true when dealing with young or spooky horses. Stay close to your fidgety animal, keeping your hand on its body as you move around it, and speak to it so it knows where you are the whole time. When milking or trimming goats’ hooves, keep your face away from its legs. Goats are known to kick in all directions; whereas horses and mules kick out to the back, and cows to the front and sides. In all cases, keep out of their kicking zones.
2. Don’t put your face or head directly over an animal’s head. When petting or handling them, keep your head to the side. Bucks and rams, especially, may head-butt even their owners – usually for play and excitement. And don’t ever trust a bull — even a sitting bull. If you lean over them, you could get a bruised chin or worse, a broken nose. (Be sure to de-horn your goats and cattle.)
3. Always open the gate inwardly, not out, when entering a pen or corral. This would prevent the quick, sly little ones from escaping.
4. Always have an escape path. Many injuries involve livestock being startled and pinning their handlers against a hard surface. When working with large animals, always have a way out, especially in closed quarters.
5. Don’t wrap the lead rope around your hand when walking an animal bigger and stronger than yourself. If it bolts, the noose would tighten around your hand and you’ll get jerked and dragged along. Simply holding the rope firmly so it doesn’t slip from your hand should suffice.
6. Don’t put your fingers inside a goat’s mouth. Even though they don’t have upper teeth and don’t bite on purpose, sticking a finger in there to check the inside of their mouth or steal a cud could hurt you. The teeth on a goat’s lower gums are very sharp, able to snap off tree branches and peel bark off trees easily.
7. Wear protective clothing. Long-sleeved shirts and pants, gloves, boots. When working around cattle and horses, steel-toed boots are recommended. Ordinary leather or worse, running shoes, are no match to heavy horse hooves! Additionally, it won’t hurt to wear a helmet and shin guards when riding horses.
8. Keep facilities and equipment well-maintained. Make sure gates are swinging, hinges are greased, latches are working, and animal restraining gear are available. Keep walkways and work areas dry, tidy and free from tripping, falling and slipping hazards.
9. Wash hands and remove soiled clothing after handling livestock. People can catch diseases, like rabies and ringworm, from animals. If your animals show signs of illness, treat it promptly and monitor it closely. It pays to familiarize yourself with symptoms of common diseases. Remember to wear disposable rubber gloves when working with sick animals. And if they die, be sure to dispose of them properly and to disinfect possible contaminated areas. Always practice good sanitation and hygiene. If you have a cut or a wound, keep it covered while working with animals.
What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below: