Stay One Step Ahead: Tips for Handling Cattle Safely and Effectively

By Dairy Farming Hut


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People with limited experience with cattle seldom think of them as dangerous. However, cattle kill around twenty-two people every year in the United States. Therefore, knowing what to do if a cow chases you is essential. Handling cattle must be done with thought and care to avoid potential accidents.

To minimize the threat of an aggressive cow, it is recommended that you turn sideways to it. Back away slowly, and do not run or expose your back to the cattle. You can try sidestepping out of the cow's vision during an attack. If necessary, use a strong stick to strike the cow's head or muzzle as a last resort.

Caution must be exercised when working around large animals such as cows. The size difference makes them dangerous even if they are not aggressive.

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What To Do If A Cow Chases You?

People unfamiliar with cows may think of them as large, benign animals chewing the cud peacefully. Most cows are not aggressive, but some are genetically aggressive or have had bad experiences with people. Some situations make even the most mellow cow a threat.

Cows mostly chase people when they feel threatened in some way. If the cow has an aggressive stance, move so that your side is presented to the cow. The cow will perceive you as smaller and may settle down. Do not stare directly at the cow, as this is threatening behavior for cows.

You should back away slowly to move away from the cow's personal space. Moving quickly may make the cow feel more threatened as they react to sudden movements. At this stage, do not shout, as it may aggravate the cow more.

It is not advisable to turn your back and run as cows are much faster than people, despite their bulk. However, if you are close to a fence or barrier and can reach it and get through before the cow, you can run to safety.

If the cow is actively charging you, try throwing your shirt or hat to the side to distract the cow. If you have food in your hands, throw it down on the ground. If the cow is chasing you because you picked up its calf, put it down and move away.

If possible, try to get into the cow's blind spot directly behind it. Once there, keep your movements small and keep quiet. The cow may calm down enough for you to move toward safety.

If you need to run, try zigzagging or changing direction fast, as the cow is about to reach you. You will need to be strong and agile to achieve this feat, but adrenalin may lend wings to your feet.

If you have been cornered or are being battered, hit the cow sharply with a stick, stone, or your fist on its eye, head, or muzzle. Do not hit the cow on the top of the head. It will hurt your hand and not achieve much as this bone is very hard. Aim for the area between the eyes, the eyes, or the nose.

Throwing your shirt over the cow's eyes may give you time to get away if the cow is ramming you. If the cow cannot see, it will stop charging until it can get the shirt away from its eyes.

You can shout in a low pitch if a cow is battering you. Avoid shrill screams and shrieks as you want to sound as intimidating as possible. It will also help to alert any people nearby of your predicament.

Safety Precautions When Dealing With Cows

Cows are large animals that do not have to be aggressive to hurt their handlers. Sometimes cattle panic and run over or crush handlers in their confusion. An animal that is five to eight times heavier than its handler should always be treated cautiously.

Cows have a flight zone or, to put it in human terms, a personal space. When you enter their flight zone, they become uncomfortable and move off or become aggressive. Dairy cattle usually have smaller flight zones, around two meters. Beef cattle have a flight zone of about six to eight meters.

A handler aware of the cows' flight zone can use it to keep themselves safe and move cattle by positioning their body.

Cows are herd animals, and it is always safest to have a herd mate with a cow if you need to handle it. Cows on their own are more anxious and stressed and will respond unpredictably.

Proper Barn Design Keeps Handlers Safe

Handling equipment and the structure of corrals, feedlots, chutes, or dairy barns should be designed and set up so that the handler is kept safe. In addition, the best designs minimize the time the handler must be in a confined space with cows.    

Yards, crushes (squeeze chutes), and pens should be designed based on your cattle breed. There is a marked size difference between different breeds of cattle. A small crush pen may not hold larger cows which can easily jump out during handling. Similarly, a large crush pen may allow smaller breeds to turn around, endangering the handler or veterinarian during procedures.

Separation gates are essential for ensuring the safety of handlers who need to move around the cow while it is in a crush pen. However, these gates are often overlooked during the design of such pens.

Maintaining equipment is essential for safe cattle handling, including keeping gates in good condition, mending fences as necessary, and ensuring dry, non-slippery walkways to prevent accidental falls of the handlers.

Keep Cattle Calm During Handling

Keeping cattle calm is crucial, as stress and agitation can increase their arousal levels and make them more likely to exhibit a fight or flight response. Handlers can be put in danger by both reactions.

If you have just moved a herd of cows into an area, allow them thirty minutes to an hour to settle before you try to work with them. Young cows should be dealt with calmly and patiently when they experience new situations, such as a milking barn.

Never shout, chase, or hit the cows, as this raises their stress and results in panic or aggression. Some people use electric prodders, but cattle ethologists note that their use contributes to stressed, unhappy cattle that do not put on weight, give less milk, and have wild behavior. 

Temple Grandin, an expert on stock animal behavior, states that electric prodders are overused and, most of the time, unnecessary. Instead, there are kinder, easier methods to move cows using the handler's body position. Sticks with attached flags or ribbons and plastic paddles are suitable alternatives that limit the cows' stress.

When cows have positive interactions with handlers, they become calmer and easier to manage when being milked or handled. In addition, they are less likely to be aggressive toward people in the field and barn.

When handling cattle, keep to the periphery of the field or corral. Plan an escape route so that you know where to go if a cow charges you. Do not walk in the middle of a herd, as this can result in injuries from being crushed as the cows mill around.

Safety Around Cows With Calves

When cows have calves, their protective instincts are strong, and they usually do not take kindly to someone interfering with their calf. Unfortunately, even the most docile cow can become more aggressive when she has a calf.

It is always wise to assume the cow will be aggressive when she has a calf. Therefore, treat her cautiously, and do not turn your back on her. Never get between a cow and her calf.

It is preferable to have two people for any tasks that involve the calf, such as disinfecting the umbilicus, checking the calf, or treating for illness. One person should stand guard, watching the cow, while the other deals with the calf.  

If a calf has died, the mother may protect the body. Farmers have been attacked by cows when removing dead calves. It may be best to wait until the cow leaves the calf's body before removing it.

If the cow and calf are in the field, plan an escape route before approaching the cow. You can drive a vehicle close to the cow and calf but avoid scaring the cow. Keep the vehicle eight to ten meters away from the mother and baby. The vehicle can act as a refuge if the cow becomes aggressive.

Ensure your safety when working around cows by consulting our guide on the top UTVs for dairy farms. Don't leave anything to chance - choose the best UTV for your needs and stay protected in any situation.

To avoid startling a cow and her calf, it's best to make your presence known to the cow before approaching. Also, avoid approaching her from behind, as this is her blind spot.

Safety With Bulls

Dairy bulls are notoriously aggressive and unpredictable. This temperament of dairy bulls largely arises from the fact that they are removed from their mothers and hand-fed by humans, which causes them to imprint on people instead of cows. They grow up isolated from the herd, which teaches them manners and makes them more balanced animals.

Young bulls want to play with people as they think they are herd members, which can be just as dangerous as an attack. As the bulls mature, usually around two years, they become more aggressive and unpredictable. They view people as their competitors as the dominant herd bull. Many farmers and animal specialists will declare that your most dangerous bull is the hand-reared one.

Beef bulls are brought up in a herd by their mother and are generally more predictable and less violent. However, beef bulls can also exhibit aggressive behavior. Therefore, it's crucial to exercise caution when working with them.

Handlers should never get between fighting bulls. It is extremely dangerous and almost impossible to break up the fight.

It is important that fields that house bulls should have clear signs on the gate and fences to alert farm workers, visitors, and hikers. If it is necessary to enter the field, it is best to do it in a vehicle or with someone else. Escape routes are critical, and handlers should keep to the field's perimeter.

Use a stout stick, such as an axe handle, and attach a flag. Many people feel that this makes you look larger than you are. Some people advocate lowering your stick and turning sideways to lessen the threat. Others recommend facing the bull and positioning the stick by your side to look more dominant.

There are conflicting opinions on the best way to cope with a bull showing aggression. This argument arises because each bull is different and will respond individually. Knowing your bull's characteristics may help you choose the correct response.

Extremely aggressive bulls are unlikely to back down from a show of dominance by a person. According to most behaviorists, it's recommended to turn sideways and make yourself appear less threatening.

Do not run from bulls that are displaying aggression. Back away slowly until you are out of the bull's flight zone. If the bull charges you, hit the bull as hard and fast as you can around the eyes and muzzle.

At the same time, try to devise an escape plan, even if this means climbing a tree.

In Summary: Key Strategies for Handling Cows Safely

Handling cows can be a challenging task, but it's also an important aspect of raising and caring for them. By following the tips outlined in this guide, you can increase your safety and reduce the risk of injury to yourself and the cows.

Remember to always be aware of your surroundings, approach the cattle calmly, and use proper equipment and techniques when handling them. With patience, practice, and a little bit of knowledge, you can safely and effectively handle cows and ensure their well-being.

In addition, training for cattle handling is a crucial aspect of ensuring the safety, well-being, and productivity of both the animals and the handlers. There are many training programs available for cattle handling, ranging from basic courses for novice handlers to more advanced programs for experienced professionals.

These training programs cover a range of topics, including animal behavior, handling techniques, equipment operation, and safety procedures. They may also provide hands-on experience with cattle, allowing handlers to practice their skills in a controlled environment.

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