Killer cows and farmers

In this article, Libby considers the risk to farmers from their cattle, and summarises the existing guidance.

Cattle: Farmers need to be aware of the dangers

In fact, it seems that they are more at risk than walkers.

From 2000 – 2015 there were 74 fatalities involving cattle recorded by HSE.

  • Eighteen of these fatal accidents have involved members of the public,
  • The remaining 56 have been fatal accidents involving farm workers.

In 2017, the risks of farming are just as bad, with no reduction in the high numbers of farm injuries and deaths.

Killer bullAre the attacks just by bulls?

No! Cow attacks greatly outnumber bull attacks in terms of fatalities, according to John McNamara, the National Health and Safety Specialist for Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Teagasc).

Cow attacks have increased significantly in the last decade or so, with the time around calving proving to be the most dangerous time, McNamara said. In recent years, cow attacks account for close to two-thirds of fatal animal attacks on farms compared to just one-third for bull attacks, he added.

This is from an Irish perspective, but the figures are similar for the UK.

Cow attacks are common

Nearly half of farmers, who completed a survey, had been attacked by cows at calving.

In a poll carried out by Agriland, an Irish farming website, 47% of farmers revealed that they have been attacked by a cow at calving time.

Link to the Agriland report: Twice as many cow attacks on farms

mad cows - kill farmers every yearCow attacks in the news recently

Links to recent reports of attacks by cows on farmers

  1. Cow attacks farmer while he dealt with her calf and breaks his neck ribs and back. Farmer tells how his cow almost killed him
  2. Cow stands on farmer. The man sustained a broken leg with some other minor injuries. Farm accident in Wexford
  3. Cow gores farmer BBC news, Northern Ireland
  4. Farmer killed by cow Farmer dies after incident with cow and calf
  5. Warning bells – 3 farming tragedies in less than a week (Farmers Guardian)Warning bells after three farming tragedies 

What is being done?

In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive were concerned

The HSE held a meeting, in June 2015, with AIAC (UK agricultural advisory body), which was chaired by Rick Brunt, head of agriculture for the HSE. The minutes of June 2015 advise farmers that cattle with calves should not be kept in fields with public access and farmers should be aware age can be an issue in attacks on farm workers. Safety guidelines were updated by the HSE.

Not very much was achieved, safety wise. Farmers and public are still being injured by cattle.  So, another meeting was held with AIAC in Nov 2016. Result?

“AIAC members are invited to set out how their organisations can assist in encouraging farmers to follow existing HSE and industry guidance to minimise incidents involving cattle.”

Are they doing that – encouraging farmers to minimise incidents with cattle?yellow wellies farm safety campaign

The Yellow Wellies group is now spreading the word informing/educating farmers on safer working. Hopefully the message is getting through.

The Yellow Wellies message for the farm safety week campaign this year:

“This Farm Safety Week, we hope that by hearing the stories of other farmers who have had personal experience of accidents, we can get farmers of all ages to realise that this week, and every week, farm safety is a lifestyle, not a slogan.”

Our “COWS” group second that, and we hope that by informing everyone of the risks from cattle we can keep farmers and walkers safe from injuries.

Read more at:

So that’s enough of the scary stories. Here is the go-to site to keep farmers as safe as possible while working with livestock: Safety advice from HSE on handling cattle:

handling cattle is always riskyHandling cattle always involves risk

On a BBC blog about the Archers radio show, Rick Brunt, the head of agriculture for the HSE, stated that:

“handling cattle always involves a risk from crushing, kicking, butting or goring. The risks are greater if the animals aren’t used to being handled, or if they have young with them.”

Cattle – what are the risks?

  • Handling cattle always involves a risk of injury from crushing, kicking, butting or goring.
  • The risk is greater if the animals have not been handled frequently, such as those from hills or moorland, sucklers or newly calved cattle.
  • Certain jobs may increase the risk, e.g. veterinary work.
  • Attempting to carry out stock tasks on unrestrained cattle or with makeshift equipment is particularly hazardous.
  • Never underestimate the risk from cattle, even with good precautions in place.

Handling and housing cattle advice

The HSE provide Agriculture Information Sheet AIS35: Handling and housing cattle. This gives general advice for farmers on safe handling of adult cattle, including stock bulls, bull beef, suckler and dairy cattle, and on housing stock bulls and bull beef safely. It also gives advice on preparing cattle for slaughter.

It does not include the precautions necessary to protect the public when keeping cattle in fields with public access. These are provided in this sheet:  Agriculture Information Sheet AIS17: Keeping cattle in fields with public access.

In particular this sheet, aimed at farmers, emphasises

  • You assess the temperament of any cattle kept in fields with public access and remove from the group any with a history of aggression, or that may be aggressive because of illness, young calves etc;
  • You consider whether it is reasonably practical to temporarily fence rights of way so cattle cannot access them.

farmer and his cows - be aware of the risks and stay safeSummary

Every year there are deaths and injuries to farmers and other workers while handling cattle. These are often caused by using poor equipment, ineffective methods of moving cattle and an underestimation of the strength, speed or behaviour of cattle.

The message to farmers? Keep safe, consider the risk.

If you have an opinion you want to share, do let us know.

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