Practicing safety around livestock

cattle in pasture

Usually, several safety articles are published at this time of the year to alert farmers of the risks for injuries during the harvest season. The use of fast-moving equipment, many moving parts on harvest machines, working long days, traveling roadways with slow-moving vehicles and more warrant the constant reminder to be vigilant about working safely on the farm.

I heard a speaker at a non-agricultural event recently say that farming was one of those occupations with little risk for injury, yet we know that agriculture is one of the most hazardous occupations. This is another example of perception versus reality about agriculture.

Yet, this article is neither about safety during the harvest season nor working around farm buildings — it’s a reminder of the need to practice safety in working with animals on farms.


A few years ago, one of my graduate students was in a free-stall barn with a group of dry cows. Unexpectedly, one of the cows charged her and penned her in a free stall.

Always be aware of the behavior of animals around you. Assess their flight zone and note the look in their eyes. Beware of those who show no sign of fleeing and have a sparkle in their eyes.


Last week, one of the OSU students came to class with her arm in a sling. What happened? She was in a field with beef cows and one of the cows with a calf starting charging after her, and in her attempt to get away, she fell and injured her arm.

So was this unusual? Not really but especially given that the student had her dog in the field with her and it was really the dog that the cow started charging after.

Never take a dog around animals that are not used to having dogs present, especially female animals with offspring.


Recently someone in the dairy industry sustained an injury because a heifer in heat tried to mount them.

Always be aware of the behavior of the animals around you, including those that are gentle and are behind you.


Too many families I know have stories of being in the presence of bulls and escaped major injury or death by moving quickly to remove themselves from the pen with the bull or was able to place an object between them and the bull.

Always determine if a breeding male animal is in the pen or pasture that you are planning to enter. Do not have bulls on dairy farms, and for other livestock, be aware of the breeding males at all times, keep a safe distance and already have the escape route planned.


Avoid close encounters whereby you could be crushed by an animal moving through a doorway, an alley or some other space without adequate room for both human and animal.

Always assess the risks around you and take necessary precautions. As the saying goes, accidents happen “before you know it.”


To avoid injuries around livestock:

  • Assess your surroundings before beginning work with the animals, identify potential risks and develop plans to avoid these risks.
  • In groups, make sure everyone in the group knows the plan and who is responsible for specific tasks and that each person knows the risks with their assigned tasks.
  • Work calmly, patiently and deliberately with the animals, assessing their reaction to your presence at all times. Adjust your interaction and distance with them as needed.
  • Avoid quick movements and loud noises.
  • Do not prod animals in spaces where there is nowhere for them to go.
  • Always identify an escape route from the animals.
  • Remember that females with offspring and breeding males may change their behavior. Use extreme caution in your work or interaction with them.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and practicing safety can mean the difference between life and death. Be careful out there.

Additional resources on agricultural safety are available at:


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.