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Livestock Safety: Keeping You and Your Animals Safe

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
September 21, 2016        
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties


Livestock Safety: Keeping You and Your Animals Safe
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (9/21/16) — An often overlooked area of farm safety is livestock safety. 

Whenever I talk about livestock safety, I like to highlight two goals: Keeping ourselves safe from the animals, and keeping the animals safe from us.  An important thing to remember with livestock animals is thousands of years ago, before they were domesticated, they were prey animals, hunted by predators.  Most livestock still have those innate instincts of prey animals, the most prominent one being the fight or flight response.  You probably remember learning about fight or flight in biology class.  You may also remember that humans also exhibit fight or flight response.

Fight or flight indicates an animal’s response to a threat--they will choose to confront the threat or flee from it.  The goal of livestock farmers is to reduce those threats and avoid initiating a fight or flight response.  There are some key steps we can take to avoid spooking our animals.  First is avoid the blindspot.  The blindspot is the area directly behind the animal, between the ears.  If you are standing here while the animal is facing forward, they cannot see you.  Approaching them from the back will likely startle them and cause a fight or flight response.  This puts people in danger, as the animal may choose to attack.  It also puts the animals in danger, as they could injure themselves while running away.  Always approach an animal from the front or side.

Second, be aware of the animal’s pressure and flight zones.  Picture two circles around your animal, one close around it and the other a little farther out.  The outer circle is known as the pressure zone.  This is where the animal will notice and begin to react to your presence.  They may move their head or take a step away from you.  The inner circle is known as the flight zone.  This is where the animal will intentionally move away from you to relieve the pressure.  Pressure and flight zones are different on every animal, but understanding what they are is important in keeping yourself and them safe.

Lastly, think about how you like to be approached.  How would you respond if someone came at you, running and yelling loudly?  How would you react if someone approached you slowly and calmly, with an arm outstretched for a handshake?    Livestock are no different.  We need to remember to be quiet and calm, yet deliberate with our movements.  Animals want to anticipate what your next move is going to be, they like predictability.  Acting in a loud in threatening manner may cause fight or flight, and as dairy farmers know, may inhibit oxytocin release for milk letdown.

Behaving in a safe, calm manner, being aware of flight and pressure zones, and approaching animals from the front or side will ensure not only your safety, but their safety as well.



Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
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