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No such Thing as a Quiet Bull - H.S.A. Inspector

‘There is no such thing as a quiet breed of bull’ stated Pat Griffin, Senior Inspector with the Health and Safety Authority with responsibility for the Agriculture sector. Mr Griffin was speaking at the National Seminar on safety with cattle taking place at the Teagasc Animal & Grassland Research Centre, Grange, Co. Meath, today Tuesday, 23 November.

Mr Griffin released data for the last 14 deaths due to bull attacks which showed that six different breeds were involved (6 Charolais; 3 Limousin; 2 Friesian; 1 Simmental; 1 Hereford; 1 Montbeliarde). When investigating fatal accidents H.S.A. Inspectors often hear that a bull could be considered ‘quiet’ for years and suddenly become ‘angry’ and attack. The H.S.A. Inspector advised farmers to be ready for this moment as a bull attack can be a horrendous occurrence. “Always have escape routes planned and have a vehicle such as a 4X4, or a tractor ready in case of an attack,” he said.

Mr Griffin stated that 46 per cent of livestock related deaths took place while farmers were herding in fields; 27 per cent in farmyards and buildings; 23 per cent when loading or unloading livestock; and a further four per cent were associated with horses. He also pointed out that 54 per cent of victims were aged 65 or older, indicating that this age group should take particular care when coming into proximity with livestock.

The seminar was organised to consider solutions to the rising level of injury with livestock, with 65 per cent of all farm injuries associated with cattle. The seminar was organised by the Farm Safety Partnership advisory committee to the Health and Safety Authority, in association with Teagasc and ICBF.

Dr Bernadette Earley, Teagasc animal health and welfare research scientist outlined the findings of animal behaviour research on reducing the risk of injury to farmers. This work was the Irish contribution to a five country EU Leonardo da Vinci funded project, designed to address the rising level of injuries with livestock across Europe. At the Teagasc Animal & Grassland Research Centre, Grange, four novel tests were used with both purebred and crossbred beef cattle related to 'animal flight', 'docility', 'fear' and a 'crush' test where animals were restrained in a cattle crush.

Dr Earley said that the ‘flight’ test findings indicated that that purebred animals were far less approachable than crossbreds, allowing an approach distance of just half that for crossbreds, before fleeing. The 'fear' test indicated that animals were more agitated when isolated from other animals. Cattle were less agitated when in the presence of a stationary person or when concentrate feed was available. The 'crush’ test indicated that animals were more agitated in a crush with 12 per cent being difficult to handle by one person.

Dr Earley stated that the results of the research clearly showed that the interaction between the farmer and the animal was crucial for safety related behaviour. Understanding the behaviour of cattle and working with them slowly and calmly is crucial to reducing injuries with cattle.

Dr Ross Evans a livestock geneticist with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) described current breeding work which could lead to more docile and safer cattle. He stated that the Irish Suckler Cow Quality and Welfare Scheme is unique in the world in terms of farmer recording docility in beef breeds.

According to Dr Evans, this trait is 30-40 per cent heritable in cattle which means there is the potential to make progress with breeding safer cattle over time. However, he asked farmers to be conscious of scoring docility accurately as it ‘could assist in preventing injuries to farmers in the future.’

Dr Evans also said that there is as much variability with docility within breeds as between breeds, supporting the view that an animal from any breed can be associated with behaviour which could cause an injury to stockpersons.

New Health and Safety Authority guidelines on the ‘safe handling of cattle at marts and lairages’ were launched at the National Livestock Seminar. These will assist with practical management of health and safety at high risk locations where high numbers of livestock are assembled.

Michael Doran, IFA Livestock Chairman who chaired the seminar said that the knowledge provided will assist farmers to reduce the risk of injury associated with livestock farming. Mr Doran has also agreed to chair a Teagasc working group to devise practical blueprints for on-farm livestock handling facilities.