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Scotland’s Rural College Urges Farmers to be Alert to Danger of Newly Calved Cows

Published Wednesday, 8th April 2015 in SAC Consulting news

Crichton dairy cow and calf
Pictured: PhD student Aluna Chawala meeting with a dairy farmer.

Experts from SRUC warn those working with livestock to take care. The spring calving period for Scotland’s beef herd has started and already people have been injured by cows with new born young.

According to SAC Consulting's St Boswells based beef specialist Dr Basil Lowman the vast majority of attacks on stockspeople are by cows which they have often regarded as docile.

“The ill-natured animals are well known and treated with respect, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the quieter ones. Every new mother is alive with hormones making her extra protective and if the cow is not used to day to day contact with humans anything can set her off and it can happen very quickly.”

Basil Lowman believes modern, efficient beef production has seen a rapid increase in the numbers of cows managed by one person. This has greatly reduced contact between cows and humans. In the past one person might have been hand feeding just 20 cows in the build up to calving. The ideal is always to have two people present to deal with newly calved cows, but with large numbers of cows calving around the clock it is often difficult.  

SRUC urges every person dealing with calving cows to spend some time looking at where cows calve and consider how easy it would be to protect themselves or escape from the pen should the cow turn nasty. 

Often calving pens with sheeted gates or solid walls can be impossible to climb if the cow gets between them and the front gate. However a simple thing like tying a water filled 5 gallon drum in the back corner as a step up to get over the gate can be a life saver. Another tip is to ensure all gates are hung to ideally leave a gap below of around 1 ½ ft (45cm) so it is possible to crawl underneath. Fencing off a corner of the pen with a firmly fixed strong gate/feed barrier can also provide a refuge until help arrives.

“Although these suggestions may seem over the top, assessing risk and taking as many sensible precautions as possible is always the key to minimise accidents.” says Basil.

“And always carry a mobile with the first number being someone who can immediately come to help. If you are concerned about losing or damaging your current expensive phone then buy the simplest one to carry with you while you are working with stock!”

Some General Rules:
1. Never go in with a cow if she is showing any of the following behaviour:
- Holding her head low to the ground and shaking it from side to side, with her ears back
- If she is continuously staring at you and shaking her head.
2. If a calf needs assistance to breathe etc and the cow has been restrained to calve her, do not release her until the calf has recovered and been moved back to the pen.
3.Never move a newborn calf alone unless the cow is safely penned off.
4. Never stand between a cow and her newborn calf.
5. If you are attacked try and crawl/roll away from the cow towards safety eg under a gate, trailer etc to present as small and non threatening target as possible.
6. If you are called to help a colleague, do not go into the pen immediately as you will be putting yourself at risk too. Wait until there are two people present. If you are alone ring for extra help, then try and distract the cow away or drive into the pen with a tractor, preferably a loader tractor carrying a bale of straw to push the cow away. Would it even be sensible to leave a tractor with a bale on next to the calving pens each evening?

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