Type Media Article
Bulls are dangerous animals. They must be treated with caution and respect even when they seem to be good tempered. John McNamara and Francis Bligh, Teagasc Health & Safety Specialists explain further.
Summer is peak breeding season on farms. Suckler farmers use bulls to produce the next crop of calves while Dairy farmers use a bull later in the breeding season. The decision to use a bull can be based on reduced labour or because observation of heats and/or gathering cows for artificial insemination is challenging.
Bulls are dangerous animals and the danger increases during the mating season. Health and Safety Authority (HSA) figures show bulls were involved in over 18% of livestock related deaths on Irish farms between 2010 and 2019. Bulls must be treated with caution and respect even when they seem to be good tempered.
The best way to reduce the danger posed by a bull on the farm is to remove the need for a bull by using artificial insemination. This will not be possible in all situations but it should always be considered.
CSO figures for 2016 show 30% of our Irish farmers are over the age of 65. Ageing brings experience but can also bring reduced mobility. The temperament of a bull can change suddenly and unpredictably. Where a farmer has reduced mobility it will be more difficult to move away from a bull that gets aggressive. This must always be considered before approaching a bull in a field or a farmyard.
Never allow dogs or pets to accompany you when checking animals in a field. Always carry a walking stick through fields with animals. It is vital to keep the bull in your sight at all times and never turn your back to a bull. As a bull gets older it can move through stages of playful aggression as a yearling to defensive, territorial aggression as a 2-3 year old. Always have help handling a bull. People who do not have experience managing a bull should not interact with a bull. People under 18 should never be in close contact with a bull.
Legislation for Ringing
It is a legal requirement to put a ring in the bull’s nose when they are 10months old. This ideally should not be done by the owner. It is a difficult task and should only be done in a crush where proper restraint is possible. When the bull is at pasture a chain is also recommended in order to give some possibility of control should the bull attack.
It is important that the bull is familiar with people and associates people with positive experiences like feeding. The bull however should not be over familiar with people. It is important that a safe distance is maintained at all times and that close interaction is managed using penning and appropriate equipment.
See video on ‘Training a Bull’ below.
If a bull shows signs of aggression he should be sent for slaughter. HSA statistics indicate that farmer deaths caused by bulls occur in proportion to the numbers in the various breeds. This means that all breeds of bulls have the potential to become aggressive and can kill.
HSA statistics tell us that many accidents with bulls take place in the open field during the main mating season. Bulls are protective of the herd and may decide you are a threat. Always keep the bull in your sight and plan a means of protection or an escape route. A tractor or other suitable farm vehicle (i.e. Jeep) can be useful to make sure there is a safe refuge available when you need to go into a field where a bull is running with the cows. If cornered by a bull, spread your arms wide, face the bull and try to slowly move out of the bull’s proximity. Turning and running from the bull can invite the bull to chase. Will you be fast enough?
When grazing a bull with the herd, make maximum use of fields where the public do not have access. A warning sign “beware of bull” should be present on entrance gates. The fields should be appropriately fenced and fences and gates maintained regularly.
Cows and heifers can also become aggressive and can attack. They can be very protective of calves and the risk is even more acute during stressful times like during calving, dehorning and weaning. Never turn your back to them, make sure there is a physical barrier during handling and cull animals when problems are identified.
Plan for emergencies
- Keep a mobile phone in your pocket so you can call for help if needed.
- Someone should be aware of where you are and when you expect to return.
- Keep your first aid box stocked.
Hear how Ann Doherty was attacked by bull and serious injuries that were inflicted - view it here
Teagasc videos on all aspects of Safety with Livestock are listed below: