Farmers and farm workers can easily be injured by livestock. Cattle, pigs, horses, sheep, dogs and other farm animals can be unpredictable and should be treated with caution at all times. Attempting to lift or push animals can cause injury and animals may also transmit certain diseases. Plan ahead for any task, maintain a barrier between the animals and yourself, and get help if you need it.
To prevent farm accidents, assess the breed, temperament, gender mix, size and training of your animals. Remember that both male and female animals may be more aggressive during the mating season.
Make sure your workers are adequately trained and familiar with the temperament of the animals they are working with. Also ensure that yards and fences are well designed and properly maintained.
Always wear suitable protective clothing (pants, boots) and use appropriate animal-handling facilities and aids such as cradles and crushes .
Farm safety risk assessment - animal handling
You can assess potential animal handling risks in many ways:
- Walk through all animal-handling areas and look for hazards, such as broken gate latches, broken posts, or restraining equipment not working.
- Consult with WorkSafe Victoria’s advisory service or visit WorkSafe’s farming information page.
- Reflect on injury records to pinpoint recurring dangers, including less obvious ones like lacerations and sprains.
- Talk over safety issues with family members, workers and other animal handlers.
- Make sure at least one person on the farm is trained in first aid.
- Remember that inexperienced workers and bystanders are more likely to be injured.
Yard design, equipment and safety
General suggestions for improving yard safety include:
- Yards, crushes, cradles and sheds should be suitable in size and strength for the animals being handled.
- Avoid blind corners and sharp turns in the design of your yard.
- Keep the walkways and laneways dry and non-slip wherever possible.
- Make sure your gates, footholds and access ways are well positioned.
- Keep all equipment in good repair: gates moving and hung, latches working, hinges greased.
Safe handling of cattle
Suggestions for handling cattle include:
- Make sure the cattle know you are approaching.
- Take care - cows may charge to protect their calves or if they are startled.
- If mustering during mating/joining season, use separate yards for bulls once yarded, if possible.
- Make sure there's enough room for the cattle to move.
- Try to work beyond the kicking range of the animal or close to its body.
- Use head rails, cradles and crushes to restrain animals when necessary.
- Dehorn your cattle.
Safe handling of horses
Suggestions for handling horses include:
- Use appropriate riding equipment that is kept in good repair.
- Wear suitable protective clothing, including a helmet.
- Exercise a horse before you attempt to mount.
- Make sure that inexperienced riders aren't teamed with aggressive or nervous horses.
Safe handling of pigs
Suggestions for handling pigs include:
- Keep boars separate at all times.
- Use a drafting board when moving boars.
- Use nose ropes and crushes to restrain pigs when necessary.
- Lifting a pig should be avoided, but if you must lift a pig, sit it down facing away from you, draw it close to your body and pick it up by the back legs, making sure to lift with your thigh muscles.
Safe handling of sheep
Suggestions for handling sheep include:
- Plan musters in advance.
- Assume that rams will act unpredictably.
- Use suitably trained sheep dogs to control the mob.
- Avoid isolating individual sheep.
- Lifting a sheep should be avoided, but if you must lift a sheep, sit it down facing away from you, draw it close to your body and pick it up by the back legs, making sure to lift with your thigh muscles.
- When shearing, use a harness to support your back.
Animal and human diseases
Many diseases can be transferred from animal to human through contact with skin, wool, hair, blood, saliva, faeces, urine and fetal products. Precautions include:
- Keep your animals appropriately vaccinated.
- Familiarise yourself with the symptoms of animal diseases.
- Treat any sign of illness promptly.
- Practise good personal hygiene - for example, washing hands and getting out of soiled clothing.
- Cover all cuts and open wounds before coming in contact with animals.
- If you come in contact with animal blood, urine or saliva, wash well with soap, water and antiseptic.
- Don't feed offal to dogs as it can transmit hydatid disease.
Where to get help
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
National Centre for Farmer Health
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.