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Animal handling in agriculture

Working with animals in agriculture exposes farm workers to some unusual hazards. Unpredictable by nature, animals can seriously injure, or even kill, the unwary or untrained worker. Here are some practical ideas are to help reduce the risks associated with animal handling.

Sheep

Shearing and crutching

  • Make sure floors in catching pens are kept dry where possible, to avoid floors become slippery and causing falls.
  • Make sure sheds are well lit and well ventilated.
  • Make ure grating is clear, securely nailed down and free of any obstruction.
  • Let sheep empty out before workers move into the shed.
  • Keep shed hands off the board and clear of shearers unless they need to be there or are called upon to help out.
  • Keep the board clean and dry at all times.
  • Get help when stacking or loading bales.
  • Ensure belt drives and grinders are properly guarded.
  • Keep dogs clear of the work area when not being used.
  • Don’t tie dogs to a place where workers could trip over the dog or its lead.
  • Use back support aids whenever possible to help prevent back injuries. Maintain good posture and use your legs, not your back.
  • If electricity is available, have electric motors fitted to the wool press to reduce air and noise pollution.

Lifting sheep

  • If sheep need to be lifted, get help where possible.
  • If lifting alone, sit the sheep on its rump, squat down, take a firm hold of its back legs while keeping the sheep’s head up to restrict movement. Pull the animal firmly against your body and lift using your legs, not your back.
  • Don’t try to drag a sheep over a fence; rather work from the same side as the animal.
  • To save lifting, put a drafting gate at the end of the handling race. It’s advisable to have several positions for ‘drop gates’ in the race to hold sheep that are to be drafted off.

Cattle

  • Wear appropriate clothing, including protective footwear and a hat for sun protection.
  • Use of aids such as headbails, branding cradles, whips, drafting canes and dogs.
  • Know the limitations of yourself and others: work within those limitations.
  • Respect cattle: they have the strength and speed to cause injury.
  • Concentrate, be alert and try to anticipate an animal’s reaction to a given situation. Though remember, cattle are more unpredictable, in varying conditions such as cold, windy weather and extreme heat.
  • Avoid working in overstocked yards so you don’t get crushed or trampled.
  • When drafting cattle through a gate, work from one side to avoid being knocked down by an animal trying to go through.
  • Take care when working with cattle in a crush (when vaccinating or applying tail tags, for example), as a sudden movement of stock can crush your arms against rails or posts.
  • Approach cattle quietly but make sure that they are aware of your presence.
  • When closing a gate behind cattle in a crush or small yard, stand to one side or with one foot on the gate in case the mob forces the gate back suddenly.
  • To avoid being kicked, try to work either outside the animal’s kicking range or directly against the animal where the effect of being kicked will be reduced.
  • In dairies there is a high risk of being kicked if a cow is startled or becomes unsettled. To reduce the likelihood of being kicked, always ensure the cow is aware of your presence, follow regular milking routines, and avoid making unexpected or unfamiliar movements or noise that may startle or unsettle the cow.
  • Be careful when working on the head of an animal that it is restrained in a head bail, because they can still move forward or backward suddenly.
  • Take care when using certain equipment such as brands or knives for castrating and bangtailing.
  • When working with stud cattle, train animals to accept intensive handling through gradual familiarisation; for example, grooming, washing, clipping.
  • When leading cattle on a halter, never wrap the lead rope around your arm or hand. If the animal gets out of control, you could be dragged.
  • Bulls should be fitted with a nose ring. When being led, their heads should be held up by the nose lead.
  • Be aware of the possibility of contacting zoonoses (diseases that are transmissable between animals and people) such as Leptospirosis and Q fever. These diseases are transmitted through contact with blood, saliva and urine. Hygiene is important. See resources below for further guidance.
  • Have a program in place for the effective treatment of internal and external parasites to ensure animal health is maintained at optimal levels.

Horses

Horse-related situations which commonly result in injury or death are:

  • falls from a horse
  • being crushed by a falling horse
  • being kicked, trodden on, bitten by or hit by a horses’ head
  • getting a foot caught in a stirrup and being dragged
  • being struck by an object such as a tree while riding
  • having the hand entangled in the leadrope
  • being crushed between the horse and a yard or fence.

Ride safely

  • Make sure workers handling horses are trained and competent.
  • Each rider must have safe riding footwear and an approved safety helmet. Helmets and their harnesses should be regularly checked for wear or damage.
  • Helmets should also be worn while working on the ground around horses, particularly young horses, or when handling breeding stock.
  • Tack for the horse must be clean, well fitted and well maintained. Check fastenings and girth points before each use.
  • When moving among horses, make sure they are aware of your presence. A startled horse often kicks.
  • Never wind lead ropes or lunge ropes around your hand – you may get dragged.
  • Help protect your back by using a shoeing stand when trimming or shoeing horses. Keep your back muscles warm and your posture correct.

Resources

WorkSafe Tasmania

Agriculture forestry and fishing

Horse and stable safety

Safe Farming Tasmania

Other resources

Guide to managing risks in cattle handling: Safe Work Australia (external link)

Health and safety in shearing: WorkSafe Victoria (external link)

Preventing zoonoses: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland (external link)

Updated: 5th November 2019