Most cattle herds are routinely gathered and worked for branding, vaccinating, pregnancy testing, weaning and other necessary management tasks. With many cow herds put through the chute twice or more annually, it is important to make sure these tasks are accomplished smoothly and safely for the cattle and the crew.
Nora Schrag, a veterinarian with Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine, says in checking for hazards, producers should first walk through the facilities they’ll be using to hold, sort and restrain the cattle.
“Be thinking in terms of the people working around this facility and take note of anything that might be dangerous to them,” says Schrag. “Many setups use pipes behind animals in the chute alleyway to keep cattle from backing up. Notice the way gates swing and the directions levers go.
“Depending on your setup if you or your head are in the wrong spot when an animal is released, you may get hurt. Make sure you and your crew — especially any new workers — know about the high-risk areas.”
Point out levers and latches and any other tools used when processing cattle and make sure everyone knows where to stand.
“Make sure they are standing on the correct side of the pipe, so that if an animal hits it they won’t end up against the fence,” she says. “Also look at the handling area from the point of view of the animal. I always walk into the tub or down the alleyway, looking for nails or bolts that might be sticking out, or I look for any materials like a flap of tin that an animal could get caught on, or anything they could put their foot through. There might be something that was perfectly fine the last time you worked cattle, but may not hold for today.”
Schrag says seemingly solid handling equipment can get worn by weather and use. So make sure all equipment is sound.
It also pays to handle cattle with the best possible flow through the process. “Point out to the crew that a certain corner or narrow gate is a bit tight for handling several head.” Slow down and take it easy, she advises. “It’s a lot easier to prevent injuries than to fix them later.”
Watch for needles
It’s also good to have human safety reminders when working cattle. “It depends on how many people are involved,” Schrag says.
“If there’s just one person pushing cattle and one person working at the chute, it’s not very complicated. But if there are several people doing things to make it go faster, the risk of getting poked with a needle, or having some other kind of accident increases.
“Be aware of every person and every animal around you. Keep safety precautions in mind. When refilling or holding a syringe, always keep your elbows down at your sides. Then if someone walks past you, they’re not as likely to bump your elbow and bump your hand,” Schrag says.
When quickly refilling syringes, there is a risk of accidentally poking yourself or someone else. Most vaccines aren’t dangerous to humans, but blackleg can cause a serious inflammatory reaction. Avoiding accidental needle pokes should be high priority.
“Keep your elbows at your sides, and if you are holding a bottle to refill your syringe, use the finger on one hand to touch the other arm for added stability and steadiness. If someone bumps you, the needle can’t jump into your hand,” she says.
When reaching through bars to vaccinate or apply medication pay attention to what you are doing. “It is always better to reach over rather than through, when possible,” Schrag says.
“Even people who have been working around chutes for a long time sometimes get hurt. Anything you can do to minimize situations where your arm could get pinched will help.”
It’s all about anticipating problems rather than helplessly watching them happen, she says. It helps if the people who are doing the vaccinating have had some experience.