NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665


May 28, 1998

Design Livestock Facilities For Safety

The risks and hazards of working with livestock can be minimized with properly designed handling facilities.

"Facilities that are designed to protect the people working with the animals and that incorporate what we know about animal behavior greatly reduce the opportunity for accidents and injury," notes George Maher, an agricultural safety specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

In North Dakota alone, 990 livestock-related injuries were reported from 1991 to 1994, according to the North Dakota Agricultural and Occupational Health Nurses Surveillance Program. Of those injuries, 896 involved large-animal livestock. There were three fatalities. The overall number also included injuries related to the recreational use of horses. Types of livestock involved in the accidents were cattle, horses, hogs, sheep and goats.

Types of injury which are most common are broken bones, dislocations, and other musculoskeletal damage.

"Most often, these injuries are serious, but not fatal," Maher notes. "But these types of injury will keep the victim out of work for a significant period of time."

Maher outlines some considerations for setting up livestock facilities and for handling livestock.

n Animals move more willingly through loading and sorting chutes or an alleys if they can see that there is someplace to go. Livestock often resist moving to the end of a blind alley, but move readily if there is an open gate at the end which can be closed just before the animal get there. Timing can be a critical part of safety.

n Provide an escape route when working with livestock. Livestock workers can move under or over fences, behind a post, around a corner, or through a man-gate. The man-gate will only allow a person to pass through. Escape routes can be designed into a livestock handling system without affecting its efficiency. Studies indicate that a person can escape from an enraged steer or heifer faster by diving and rolling under a fence than by climbing over the top. Fences with a ground clearance of 18 inches will not cause significant problems with the handling of full-grown cattle and horses.

n Allow escape routes for livestock too. Many injuries occur when human and animal confront each other with no opportunity for escape or negotiation. Cornered animals are very dangerous. If the situation gets out of control, make sure the livestock handler or a helper can release the animal.

n Some situations require that animals have no opportunity for escape. When livestock are being medicated or given medical treatment, they should be restrained tightly with well-maintained equipment that's designed for the job. Handlers and animals are much safer in those situations if complete restraint is used. A good restraining chute is a wise investment for those situations.

"Remember that working quietly and gently with livestock will usually produce quicker and safer results than will yelling, whooping and prodding," Maher says. "Communication between man and beast really breaks down when one of the two becomes angry and lets temper take control. Cattle and horses, as well as most rams and boars, easily outweigh the average person and have a clear advantage in a confrontation. Intelligence is man's greatest advantage."

Maher says those who work with livestock need to remember that no two are alike in temperament and behavior. He concludes, "That unpredictability coupled with their size creates a significant hazard. When you begin working with livestock—herding them or moving them from one pen to another—you add stress and excitement to an already dangerous combination. Planning your work and designing facilities with safety in mind helps reduce the risk."

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Source: George Maher (701) 231-8288

Editor: Tom Jirik (701) 231-9629