The vast majority of farms in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset keep livestock. Farm animals do carry their own risks, some general and some specific to the type of animal.
Every type of farm animal has its own characteristics and needs, and each type of farm animal brings its own set of hazards. You should familiarise yourself with the risks associated with the animals on your farm. Territorial instincts, reactions to perceived threats, vision characteristics such as colour blindness and sensitivity to certain types of noise can all cause animals to react in ways that can put farm workers, members of the public and the animals themselves in danger.
Trying to understand how the animal sees the world may help you to provide it with a less stressful environment, helping to improve safety and productivity.
Bulls of recognised dairy breeds must never be placed in fields containing public rights of way. Before placing a bull of any other breed in such a field, carefully consider its temperament and behaviour. If there is any indication that it is likely to be aggressive or unpredictable, or if its behaviour gives you cause for concern, do not place it in the field. Beef bulls are banned from fields with footpaths unless accompanied by cows or heifers. Place signs informing the public when there are bulls, or cows with calves, in the area. Remove the signs once the animals have been moved as signs which deter the public from exercising their right of responsible access may be regarded as obstruction.
Handling cattle always involves a risk of injury from crushing, kicking, butting or goring. Always treat bulls with respect, even if you work with the particular animal on a regular basis, as this can cause complacency. A playful bull is just as likely to cause injury or death as an angry one. Be particularly careful when working with animals that have not been handled frequently, such as those from open moorland pastures.
Anyone handling cattle should be in good health, properly trained, fully aware of the hazards involved and how to minimise them, have the necessary equipment available to perform the job safely and know how to use it properly. Inexperienced handlers should be supervised until they are competent and experienced enough to work on their own.
Every farm that deals with cattle should have proper handling facilities, well maintained in good working order. A race and a crush suitable for the animals being handled is essential. Makeshift gates and hurdles are not sufficient, and will increase the risk of injury as well as being less efficient. Special equipment is needed for handling stock bulls out of the pen.
Race and crush
Check that animals can readily enter the race and there is enough room in the collecting pen for them to feed into the funnel easily. Ensure that animals can see clearly to the crush and beyond so they will readily move along the race. Make sure the sides of the race are high enough to prevent animals jumping over them and that they are properly secured to the ground and to each other. Do not work on an animal in the crush with an unsecured animal waiting in the race behind.
The crush should not be used for belly or foot trimming. Make sure it has a locking front gate and yoke that allows the animal’s head to be held firmly, and a rump rail, chain or bar to minimise forward and backward movement of the animal. It should be secured to the ground, positioned to allow you to work safely around it without the risk of contact with other animals, be well lit and have a slip-resistant floor. Gates should open smoothly with a minimum of effort and noise.
Sheep and pigs
Reduce the risk of injury from handling sheep by using races, shedding gates and turnover crates which are appropriate for the size of the flock. Sheep should only be handled by restraining them with a hand or arm under the neck and another on or around the rear. Rams can be unpredictable and aggressive so extra care should be taken around them. Pregnant women should not handle ewes during lambing as there is a high risk of severe illness and enzootic abortion (chlamydia psittaci) may result.
Make full use of pig boards when moving or working among animals. Pigs should not be tethered unless this is for a veterinary purpose. Tethers should be inspected regularly and adjusted to fit the pig comfortably. Ensure the sow is properly restrained or segregated when working with piglets, especially in outdoor farrowing systems.
People working in poultry houses inhale a host of different airborne particles, which collectively are referred to as poultry dust. It may vary in composition from pure wood dust to a complex mixture of organic and inorganic particles, faecal material, feathers, dander (skin material), mites, bacteria, fungi and fungal spores, and endotoxins depending on the type of birds, the work activity and the point in the growing or production cycle. The dust can harm the respiratory system and cause symptoms such as sore throats, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, as well as bronchitis, occupational asthma and flu-like symptoms.
Exposure may be controlled by enclosure and ventilation, systems of work and use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) which should provide adequate protection and fit the wearer properly. All workers in poultry houses should be subject to regular health checks.