What you need to do…

The law requires you to assess and control risks from work activities so far as is reasonably practicable. Here we show how you can improve your livestock handling system and make it safer and more efficient. The key issues are:

What you need to know...

Handling cattle always involves a risk of injury. To reduce the risk of injury when handling cattle to you and your employees, as well as visitors such as vets, you should have:

  • proper handling facilities, which you keep in good working order;
  • a race and a crush suitable for the animals you handle;
  • trained and competent workers; and
  • a rigorous culling policy for temperamental animals.

You will find more about health and other hazards associated with livestock in Health problems in agriculture, Noise and vibration and Children and public safety.

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Cattle - what are the risks?

  • Handling cattle always involves a risk of injury from crushing, kicking, butting or goring.
  • The risk is greater if the animals have not been handled frequently, such as those from hills or moorland, sucklers or newly calved cattle.
  • Certain jobs may increase the risk, eg veterinary work.
  • Attempting to carry out stock tasks on unrestrained cattle or with makeshift equipment is particularly hazardous.
  • Never underestimate the risk from cattle, even with good precautions in place.

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Cattle - the race

  • Animals should be able to readily enter the race, which should have a funnel end.
  • Make sure there is enough room in the collecting pen for them to feed into the funnel easily.
  • A circular collecting pen means workers can stand safely behind a forcing gate as they move animals into the race, and keep the animals moving.
  • Animals need to see clearly to the crush and beyond, so that they will readily move along the race.
  • The race may be curved, but should not include tight turns.
  • Animals  prefer to move towards a light area than into the dark.
  • The sides of the race should be high enough to prevent animals from jumping over them ; secure them properly secured to the ground and to each other for maximum strength.
  • Sheet the sides of the race to help keep cattle moving by reducing visual disturbances such as shadows and other animals.
  • Contain the lead animal in the race while it waits its turn to enter the crush.
  • Hinged or sliding doors are suitable,  make sure you operate them from the working side of the race.
  • Never work on an animal in the crush with an unsecured animal waiting in the race behind.

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Cattle - the crush

A crush should allow you to do most straightforward tasks in safety (including oral treatments, ear tagging and work from the rear end). It should:

  • have a locking front gate and yoke (ideally self-locking) allowing you to hold the animal's head firmly. Additional head restraint will prevent the animal tossing its head up and injuring people;
  • have a rump rail, chain or bar to minimise forward and backward movement of the animal. Always use this;
  • be secured to the ground or, if mobile, to a vehicle;
  • be positioned to allow you to work safely around it, without the risk of contact with other animals, and have good natural or artificial lighting;
  • allow gates to open smoothly with the minimum of effort and noise. Regular maintenance will help;
  • have a slip-resistant floor, made of sound hardwood bolted into place (nails are not suitable), metal chequerplate, or with a rubber mat over the base.

For specialised tasks, such as belly or foot trimming,  you will need a purpose-designed crush with adequate restraint and enough room to work safely.

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Other equipment

  • Consider the need for shedding gates after the crush to allow animals to be sorted into groups.
  • Work around the crush will be more convenient if it is under cover with a workbench nearby (for example, documentation, veterinary medicines  or instruments ).
  • Do not use makeshift gates and hurdles – they will make handling more difficult and increase the risk of injury.
  • Never use sticks and prods to strike an animal – this may breach welfare legislation as well as agitating the animal.
  • Before beginning work on any animal, check that  you can restrain it from kicking. Consider whether you should use an anti-kicking device.

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Keeping bulls

Accidents, some of them fatal, happen every year because bulls are not treated with respect. Remember, a bull can kill you when he is being playful just as easily as when he is angry. Make sure you can handle your bull safely:

  • Train bulls to associate people with feeding, grooming or exercise.
  • Ring bulls at 10 months old, and inspect the ring regularly.
  • Find out how bulls new to the farm have been handled, the equipment they are used to, and take time to get to know them.
  • Check handlers are competent (with training and supervision), fit, knowledgeable about safety equipment to and aware of the dangers.
  • Use handling aids such as bull poles and halters.
  • Avoid running stock bulls through the milking parlour
  • Provide a purpose-built pen for dairy bulls.

No one should ever enter the enclosure when the bull is loose.

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Preparing cattle for the abattoir

You may need to handle animals to clean or clip them before they go to slaughter, with the risk of injury. Follow the advice on handling facilities, and consider whether you can:

  • use well-drained pasture, avoiding muddy drinking and feeding areas (eg around silage rings);
  • house dirty animals on clean straw for a few days before slaughter;
  • for court-housed animals, provide adequate drainage and bed them down regularly;
  • for animals on slats, make sure the stocking rate is right as too many or too few animals in the yard will lead to greater soiling;
  • change the animal's diet for a short while before despatch to avoid feeds that cause loose motions, such as brassica, or spring grass ;
  • use good husbandry practices, such as pasture rotation or appropriate use of anthelmintics, to prevent diarrhoea.

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Sheep and pigs

  • Sheep - Reduce the risk of injury from handling smaller animals such as sheep by using races, shedding gates and turnover crates.
  • Pigs - Make full use of pig boards when moving or working among animals. Ensure the sow is properly restrained or segregated when working with piglets, especially in outdoor farrowing systems.


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