Don't get too comfortable
Every farm has their cow(s) that can be found searching for a scratch from the next person that walks by. It’s almost human nature to become so comfortable around cows like these and the rest of the herd that it is easy to forget how dangerous cattle can be.
It’s interesting how animals can flip like a light switch sometimes. One minute, they appear perfectly content and normal, and in the next, something has bothered them to the point where you, or someone close to you, could be in harm’s way. This boils down to cows’ keen sense of hearing in combination with their poor depth perception. Therefore, they might hear something a lot louder than we do or could be frightened of something visual in their environment simply because they cannot see it well.
One way to avoid this issue is to ask yourself, “Do I really need to be in this pen? What will I accomplish by physically being in here?” Often, it’s easy to stroll in the pens simply out of habit without considering the cows that are in the pen and why. Whether it is the farm you work on or when you are visiting another operation, it is never a bad idea to ask, “Who’s in this pen?” Anyone with on-farm experience knows that cows frequently move around, which can turn into a sticky situation very quickly.
According to the National Dairy FARM Program's Safety Manual in 2017 alone there were 5,700 recorded non-fatal injuries. This results in an incidence rate of 5.6 non-fatal injuries or illnesses for every 100 workers. While the national farm injury estimates do not include dairy operations employing fewer than 10 workers, these numbers are sufficient reason for great caution.
There have been many cases where women have been attacked on dairies. This could be because women smell different to cows than men, and that causes the cow to feel unsafe. Additionally, be mindful of the cow groups’ reproductive stage. There have been cases where women, especially, were attacked in dry cow or maternity pens.
With that in mind, it is only natural to be extra cautious around heifers or cows in heat as well. It is key to never turn your back or let your guard down. And this is just as relevant when dealing with bulls. They are most definitely not pets, and everyone on the farm should know this. Proper signage around bull pens can go a long way for any children or visitors on the farm.
Know the flow of the farm. This includes facilities and what is going on with the herd. If shots are being administered on a certain day or if breeding day is a specific day of the week, make sure all farm personnel are aware and advise caution.
On a dairy farm, no one is ever too old, too experienced, or too busy to take their personal safety for granted. There is nothing wrong with having affectionate cows in the herd, but it is crucial to stay on your toes at all times – no matter what!
For more information on animal welfare and farm safety, check out this post on handling cattle around robotic milkers.