University of Illinois Extension

Safety with Animals

Animals of various species are an accepted part of farms across the state. In some instances, the animals are used to diversify the operation, in others the animals are the main focus of the operation, in others the animals are recreational, and in still others a few animals are kept as a reminder of how things used to be. Since 1986, at least 8 individuals have lost their lives in Illinois while working directly with animals. The circumstances of these fatalities include being thrown from a horse while riding and being trampled by a steer while loading. In both cases, life-long experience with animals did not prevent the tragedies from occurring. Here are five reminders to think about when working with animals regardless of species.

  1. There continue to be fewer and fewer farmers, so there are more and more people who do not have practical experience with farm animals. Be especially watchful of visitors to your farm and their actions around animals. Ignorance may be bliss in some situations but not with animals.
  2. One of the benefits of growing up around animals is seeing them in all stages of growth. Young animals are particularly fascinating to most people. Be sure the young animals are in a separate location before allowing visitors near them. Maternal instincts of all species do not react well to squealing or bawling of young, especially their own.
  3. Avoid placing the young or inexperienced worker in situations around stressed animals. These situations could include loading beef animals that have been on the range for some time or horses being separated after having been together for awhile. Another stressful situation could be mixing of similar species of animals that are unfamiliar with each another. All these situations are out of the ordinary for the animals in question. Anything out of the ordinary can startle and spook animals into uncommon and dangerous behaviors. Young and inexperienced workers may be more of a hazard than a help in these situations, not only for themselves but for others
  4. Of course, bulls, boars, stallions and other mature males are simply not suitable for close inspection by most people, visitors especially. While it may be disappointing to others, mature males of all species are unpredictable by nature, even those that are routinely handled.
  5. There are situations that the young and inexperienced can learn about animals. But nearly all these situations require supervision, explicit directions, and discussions of safety. Helping Dad or Uncle feed young animals is a way to have contact with them under the supervision of another. Giving the visitors or youngsters a specific chore or two can encourage responsibility, but remember that children are not young adults. Though children gain in size and strength, few children under the age of 14 have the ability to anticipate dangerous situations, quickly recognize them when they occur, and react appropriately. This fact will necessarily limit what chores are suitable for children and youth.

In many instances, persons who are injured have not thought about getting hurt. Before working or handling animals in a particular situation, think about what has occurred in this situation in the past and what could happen if the animals are startled or spooked. Taking a few moments before hand can make things safer for everyone.