By Debbie James

Farmers are being urged to recognise the safety risks of working with cattle as livestock-related accidents continue to claim lives on Welsh farms.

Even if handling facilities are ideal, if the operator is a risk-taker the situation can still be unsafe, says Brian Rees, who chairs the Wales Farm Safety Partnership.

He says the planning that goes into a job involving livestock is crucial to keeping everyone safe.

“Plan it from the start, everyone involved in the operation needs to know what they are doing,’’ he advises.

“Given the high level of TB testing carried out on UK farmers there are very few accidents because this is a job that is planned.’’

Although it is the deaths and non-fatal injuries that make the headlines, working with livestock can bring other health challenges, for instance injuries relating to sheep handling can be progressive and musculoskeletal.

Mr Rees admits that many general handling rules aren’t observed for practical reasons.

“A lot of the rules go out of the window because if farmers did everything by the rule book they would never shear a sheep.’’

The answer often is to delegate jobs to professionals, he adds.

“Farmers have to accept that they need to get the professionals in for some jobs because they have the right equipment and expertise.’’

Mechanisation has removed risk from some jobs, such as bedding and feeding, but ironically this can make livestock more nervous when they do have contact with people.

“A beef cow might only get close to people when she calves and this is when problems occur,’’ says Mr Rees.

For fat cattle producer Lyndon Edwards, loading cattle destined for the abattoir was a job he had done without incident for decades until last year when a sharp kick from a bullock resulted in serious facial injuries.

The animal was among a group of Aberdeen Angus-crosses being loaded onto a lorry at Lower Llantrothy, the 120-acre farm near Dingestow, Monmouthshire, where he keeps over 100 cattle and 1,000 lambs.

The farm is equipped with good handling facilities including a race and secure pens.

On that day, to encourage the cattle up the ramp of the lorry, Mr Edwards entered the pen where they were contained to collect straw to spread on the tailboard.

“I was crouched down and the next thing I knew I was flat out on the floor,’’ he recalls.

Mr Edwards had been knocked unconscious in an incident witnessed by the lorry driver.

“The bullock had kicked both his feet about six foot into the air, like a bucking bronco, and caught me in the jaw. I immediately knew I was in trouble as I had blood coming from my ear and I couldn’t feel part of my face.’’

An MRI scan revealed he had sustained a hairline fracture to his skull, broken a bone linking his upper and lower jaw and had facial nerve damage.

Mr Edwards’ cattle are docile and were being loaded in a calm environment but the accident demonstrates the unpredictable nature of livestock, he says.

“The mistake I made was that I had taken myself out of the bullock’s field of vision, I was right behind him. I should have been more wary.’’

While Mr Edwards was at the hospital awaiting a scan, another farmer arrived with injuries that visibly appeared more serious, again sustained in an accident with cattle.

“He was more elderly than me and was black and blue after being knocked about by a cow,’’ he says.

“We were both there as a result of injuries caused by livestock and were both very lucky to be alive.

“I am now much more cautious around livestock. When they are in a situation that is slightly different from the norm, like being loaded onto a lorry, they are under pressure and their behaviour will be unpredictable as I learned to my cost.’’