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   Teaching the Importance
of Patient, Calm and
Quiet Animal Handling
Tadhg O’Leary is a regional safety advisor at AgSafe, the health and safety association for agricultural employers in British Columbia. The role of AgSafe safety advisors and consultants is to provide workplace safety education and advice to help achieve long-term safety goals.
Tadhg O’Leary, AgSafe
Dairy farmers have a passion for animals and are committed to the wellbeing of their cows. They also understand that there are associated risks for humans. Animals that weigh between 1,200 and 2,000 pounds, have unique personalities, respond to us and the environment in different ways and under different conditions, require diligent safe handling procedures.
I grew up working on my family’s dairy farm in Ireland, where I also began my work as a large animal veterinarian. I can tell you from personal experience that there is a lesson to be learned every day when working with cattle. For starters, once a large animal wants to move, fast or slow, there is no stopping it.
One time when I was on a local farmer’s place to vaccinate his young bulls, I had to act quickly when one of the bulls started to charge us. The farmer was an older gentleman and wasn’t moving fast enough, so I turned back and gave him a boost as we both scrambled out of the way.
The bull was young, full of his own personality, unfamiliar with vets and reacting to a new situation. It was a close call, and we chuckle about it now, but I hate to think what could have happened to that farmer if someone else hadn’t been with him.
When cattle are confused or anxious, they become difficult to handle. An experienced farmer knows the importance of creating a calm atmosphere where cattle are handled quietly and slowly, reducing the possibility of an injury to an animal or handler.
It takes skill and practice to work with cattle. Ankles, feet, toes, wrists, hands and fingers are regularly strained or fractured in daily operations. The result can be days, weeks or even months off work. In some cases, these injuries can lead to permanent damage.
New and inexperienced workers can be very excited and enthusiastic. Experienced farmers can teach sound safety practices to help them avoid injuries.
When handling cows, it is crucial that inexperienced workers learn to be patient, calm and quiet. They have to understand that it takes time before they’ll know how to do things properly and safely. You as the experienced farmer can support them - teaching and supervising until they are well-trained and competent.
1. Cattle Cues
• Be patient, calm and quiet. Cows take their cue from you. When they become confused or anxious, they become difficult to handle.
• Get to know your cows’ personalities so you can anticipate each animal’s reaction.
• Always be alert to changes in a cow’s behaviour when calving or with a newborn.
• Stay out of a cow’s blind spot. Cattle will kick if they are startled by activity behind them that they cannot see.
• Always keep your head up and be aware of your position in relation to the cow.
2. Moving Cattle
• Identify potential hazards and plan a low- stress route before you begin to move cattle.
• Always have an emergency exit and never let the cow get between you and the escape route.
• Never walk through a herd of cattle. Use a designated walkway or alternate route like going around outside.
• Never try to handle an uncooperative cow alone. Ask a co-worker for help.
• Everyone should know the planned route and escape exit locations. If there is confusion, it will cause anxiety among the cows.
• The whole team has to be “heads up” and working together.
3. Milking Parlour
Sometimes we learn more when we teach others. You are the experienced farmer. Encourage your less-experienced workers to always seek the advice or assistance of their supervisor if they are unsure in any situation. What you know could mean the difference between life and death for a worker, friend or family member. Take the time to learn more about workplace safety, establish safe work procedures and put a priority on safety for all.
• AgSafe’s Dairy Safety video series is
a useful resource for training new and young workers. Topics include handling, injury prevention, calf feeding and bull safety. Several BC dairy farmers share anecdotes from their real-life experiences.
• Read or review WorkSafeBC Health and Safety for Dairy Farms.
• Visit for risk assessment information and resources.
  • The milking parlour is the most important part of a dairy farm, and the risk of injury to workers is higher here.
• Milking requires close contact with the cow. Speak quietly, move calmly and be gentle in your interactions.
• Always be alert to the risk of kicking cows and stay out of kicking range. Cows being milked for the first time can be nervous.
4. Housekeeping
• Safety begins with wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
• Take the time to make sure that you are doing things properly and safely.
• Trips, slips and falls are the most common source of injury in a milking parlour. Always hose down the parlour after each milking to keep the workplace safe.
• Never reach through bars or headlocks. If the cow moves her head your hand or arm could be pinched or crushed.
• Be aware of pneumatic gates that can easily knock a person over.

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