Pasture Safety at Calving Time

Articles about pasture safety often address the welfare of animals, but not this one.  This one’s about your safety as a rancher, or livestock producer.  In particular, the focus is on helping you safely through the calving season when your time in the pasture is both “on demand” as well as part of your daily routine. 

Pasture Safety at Calving Time

Annually for the past five years, about 36 million calves were born in the US according to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates.  More than one-in-four calves were born in the CS-CASH* 7-state region (about 20% of the region’s calves were born in Nebraska).1   That’s a lot of new “doggies” and many were born on pasture!  It’s a good thing cows typically take care of the birthing process pretty well on their own, though their choice of location isn’t always so good. 

The hormones in livestock at calving (and breeding) times, however, make them as unpredictable as spring weather.  A livestock producer can be surprised by either, or both.  It makes sense to consider a feeding strategy that results in more calves born in daylight.  Ensure expectant cattle (especially heifers more likely to have trouble calving) are pastured where they can be observed easily and are near facilities to safely handle them, such as a squeeze chute.2 

In remote pastures some producers do their new-calf processing from the back of a pick-up truck, which affords some protection against an aggressive cow or sympathetic member of the herd.  An extra hand can provide a heads-up for trouble as well as assist in processing.  But, don’t bring “fido”.   Cattle with newborns sense dogs to be predators and will aggressively protect their calf whether you’re in the way or not. 

During the 2003-2008 period, deaths in production agriculture in the 7-state CS-CASH region totaled 829 according to US Department of Labor Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries figures.3    Assaults by animals were the main event in one of approximately every 14 deaths; cattle (~80%) and horses (~20%) were primary sources in these fatal injuries.  But there’s more to this story than aggressive cows or bulls, the rider injured by a horse or thrown while scouting cattle in the pasture.

Ranchers have hopped from their pick-up truck to open a gate only to be run over by the pick-up as it continued to roll.  Other times a tractor used in bad weather, to traverse difficult pasture terrain, or to pull a dead animal overturns.  Less speed, more attention to the terrain and safe hitching practices, plus a rollover protective structure could have saved their life.  Increasingly, however, the ATV (all-terrain vehicle) or a similar utility work machine for off-road work has become a modern workhorse during calving season.  It is paramount, just as for tractors, to follow all precautions for safe ATV use and be extra careful in bad weather or urgent times during calving season. 

For additional information, contact the CS-CASH* at UNMC in Omaha and consider how to prevent these incidents by other livestock producers as reported in media across our region:

  • ND livestock producer repeatedly rammed by a mothering cow (Feb ‘07)
  • 47-year-old NE man crushed to death in corner of pen by cow with calf (Mar ‘07)
  • NE man pushed from behind and stepped on by cow while tagging calf (Mar ’07)
  • KS man, age 26, suffered a broken back herding cattle (Jun ’07)
  • 15-year-old IA youth died working cattle in pasture when ATV overturned (Nov ’07)
  • 48-year-old IA man died herding cattle in picked corn field when ATV overturned (Nov ’07)
  • 37-year-old MN man crushed to death by cow while assisting with calving (Feb ’08)
  • MN man, 71, died when rammed by a cow while herding cattle in pasture (Apr ’08)
  • IA man, 49, died when tractor overturned pulling dead livestock for washout (Mar ’08)
  • SD man was thrown from his horse when it slipped working cattle in mud/snow (Apr ’08)
  • NE man, age 81, died when assaulted by a cow in pen (May ’08)
  • KS man, 71, died when his horse fell while checking cattle (Mar ’09)
  • 64-year-old MO man checking cattle drowned in small creek that had swollen (Apr ’09)
  • KS man, 20, on horseback chased runaway cow and drowned with horse in pond (May ’09)
  • 59-year-old MO man fractured bones when attacked while teaching cow to nurse (Sep ’09)
  • 49-year-old MO man received minor injuries when ATV overturned herding cattle ( Oct ’09)
  • MO man attacked by cow held onto horn to avoid being gored (Mar ’10)
  • NE man fractured ribs when knocked backwards by cow while moving cattle (Nov ’10)
  • NE man, age 32, died when ATV overturned helping move cattle (Mar ’11)
  • NE man, 50, died when ATV went off embankment while checking on sick calf (Sep ’11)

1 Data compiled from USDA NASS survey information available at http://quickstats.nass.usda.gov/.  Accessed 2Apr12.

2 Ringwall K.  Beeftalk: Heads up it’s calving time.  NDSU Ag News.  Available at http:www.ag.ndsu.edu/news/columns/beeftalk/beeftalk-heads-up-2013. Access 5Apr2012.

3 US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries data available at http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshstate.htm.

* CS-CASH (Central States – Center for Agricultural Safety and Health) is a CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety program funded under cooperative agreement 1U54OH01062-01 at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE.


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