Handling cattle can be safe or dangerous, depending on many factors.
Shannon Williams, Lemhi County Extension Educator with the University of Idaho, says it’s important to make sure corrals and facilities are in good repair and working properly.
“Take time to replace broken boards, poles, re-hang a gate, remove boards or poles lying along the fence, grease the equipment, clean the walkways — the alley to the chute for the cattle, and walkways along the chute for the people helping,” Williams says.
In winter, remove snow where you have to open or shut gates or the ice on a walkway. You want footing to be safe for people as well as the cattle, she says.
“Most of us don’t take time to talk to the crew about what we are doing. Make a plan and discuss it. If you work cattle with the same people, you know how they think, and what they are going to do, and everything usually goes smoothly. If you bring in a new person, they may not know which gate the cattle will be coming through, and might not know where to be — to not be in the way,” she says.
“Have sorting flags/sticks for everyone helping with sorting, so they don’t have to use a broken fence pole to poke cattle or wave their arms and yell. Low stress, quiet cattle handling makes things safer for the animals and the people handling them,” she says. “Work at cow speed (thinking in terms of cow time, not human time). Make sure you allow enough time for the job, so no one has to hurry.”
If you work cattle slowly, and not get them upset, it saves time and is safer in the long run, she says.
If cattle flow through the facility smoothly and quietly and you don’t have to get one back in that runs past the gate or through the chute and gets away, this saves time and cattle are less likely to run over people.
“When vaccinating, make sure the people doing it know how to handle the vaccine. If a person accidentally gets injected with blackleg vaccine, or medication is splashed into their eyes, take them to the doctor — along with the vaccine\product label, to have the serial number, so the doctor can find out what the human risk might be. Have a first aid kit on hand. Know what to do in case of a medical emergency,” Williams says.
“If some animals are more flighty or aggressive, handle them with care, and give everyone a heads-up warning when they come through,” she says. Bulls should always be handled carefully.
Make sure the people helping know how to handle cattle properly.
“If some folks helping don’t have a clue, or you are stuck with them for the day, give them an easy job, out of harm’s way, like the record-keeping,” she says.
“Before you start working cattle, have everything planned. Talk to your crew. If everyone knows their job, things go smoother,” she says.
“If you have to load and haul cattle, don’t try to cram that extra animal into the trailer. If someone is fighting with the trailer gate this can be dangerous,” Williams says.
When sorting cattle in a corral or alley, be aware that if an animal kicks or rams into a gate, it may fly back and hit someone. Fatalities have occurred when people got hit in the head by a fast-moving metal gate. Think ahead and be aware of potential hazards — and what might happen under various circumstances.