Calving jacks – Safety on the farm

Farm Vet Pablo discusses safety on the farm, in particular when calving; good practice, what not to do and where a calving jack may be handy

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A quarter of British farm accidents, and one-fifth of farm deaths in older farmers, are livestock-related. Many of us, unfortunately, know of someone who has suffered an accident at work, whether it is one of our farming friends, workers or a vet working on a farm.

In fact, if you work in the agricultural profession, you will have probably suffered from a kick, bite or been crushed by an animal you’ve tried to help. And that is not uncommon because the farming/agriculture industry has the worst rate of fatal injuries among its employees of all the major industry sectors – 18 times higher than the overall average. Approximately 360,000 people work in agriculture. That is just 1%of the population. However, the industry is responsible for 20% of all fatal accident deaths in the workplace.

We found that almost 20% of production animal workers that had had accidents, rated the injuries as very or quite severe. After accidents with machinery, the most common one was being kicked in the head while castrating a calf, followed by being squashed in the crush with an animal and being attacked by a bull that they were trying to work
with, and studies say that on average at least one farmer is killed each year by a cow, trying to calve it.

Just to remind you, sometimes, after years of working with animals, we forget that accidents can happen. Recently, after doing hundreds of calvings, I went to another easy one. We didn’t have a calving jack available and while we were waiting for another farmer to bring us one, I tried to calve the cow by putting ropes round my arms to pull harder. Now, after 2 nerves damaged and a doctor saying that I will recover in 6 months, my advice is think twice before doing something stupid.

There is an organisation focused on farm safety and farmers’ mental health called Yellow Wellies – have a look on their website for more info (yellowwellies.org).

In summary, despite working in one of the most dangerous work environments, and knowing that sooner or later accidents will come, we want you to stay as safe as possible, because people are the most important part in the farm business. So invest in equipment, try not to work alone and, as always, if you have any questions or need advice about safety at work, contact us.

Some useful tips to make your work environment safer

Try not to do a difficult calving alone and without a calving jack – even if you have a small farm, you can find a good jack for about £300 which can greatly improve your working environment*. Also, during calvings, never ever put ropes around any part of your body – it could result in you trapping your nerves or breaking your bones.

Try to keep cattle calm and watch for warning signs of animal aggression, especially in cows and heifers around calving time, fresh calved animals and cows that are on heat.

Work with a crush if at all possible. If you can’t, and you need to work inside the pen with the animal, work out an escape route or refuge in advance of handling cattle. Where possible use a head gate to restrain a calving cow or heifer when checking the calf. Again, for about £300 we can provide a very useful piece of equipment for your farm that can make life easier and avoid some accidents.

*We’d recommend the Vink Calving Aid, as it holds the back of the cow so well and gives far less slippage than the T-bar models.

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