The Moos Room™

National Farm Safety and Health Week

Dr. Joe goes over the importance of slowing down and assessing a situation before jumping in and potentially getting hurt. A little story time, a little advice based on what Dr. Joe has done wrong, and plenty of rambling. Thanks for listening.

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Hosted by members of the University of Minnesota Extension Beef and Dairy Teams, The Moos Room discusses relevant topics to help beef and dairy producers be more successful. The information is evidence-based and presented as an informal conversation between the hosts and guests.

Dr. Joe Armstrong: What is up everybody? This is Dr. Joe Armstrong. We are in the car, windshield episode today. Today is the first day of National Farm Safety and Health Week, so today we're talking a little bit about safety. Yes, this is a windshield episode. You might be thinking in your mind, "This seems a little unplanned and a little impromptu," and that's because it is. Yesterday we had a friend, a colleague on, who was willing to be very vulnerable on the podcast and shared a lot of great information that everyone should hear, but it was a very intense and emotional episode for everyone on the podcast. Because of that, I am not quite ready to go back and listen again and work on that episode and edit it, and I'm just not quite in the right head space to do so, and that's where we come to this windshield episode instead of one of our normal episodes that was supposed to come out today.
I know it's weird to hear me with no Emily on, talking about safety, but trust me, I've been hurt a ton and I've been not safe plenty of times, so I've got some personal experience in this, especially when it relates to cows and not being the safest. I hope you can take some of my advice. Take it to heart. Don't make the mistakes I did. You don't have to get hurt to learn. Most of what we talk about is exactly what Emily preaches. Slow down, think twice, be safe. We need to assess the situation before we get into it so that we know that we're not going to put ourselves in a bad spot or at least we're going to have an out right away.
If we get into story time real quick, I was working dairy heifers with my crew. We were preg-checking at this dairy. There's always one heifer in the group that doesn't want to cooperate, gets a little too worked up. She jumped the gate. When she jumped the gate, she got her foot caught in the gate itself. Now, she's at risk for breaking her leg. That is what we focused on and instead of stopping to assess the situation, we rushed in. Now, I have a tendency to look at something that my crew is doing, recognize that it's dangerous and then instead of telling everyone to stop, jump in and do the dangerous thing myself instead. Now, that's not the greatest approach. I'm trying to save my crew. I'm trying to have them not get hurt, but I'm putting myself at risk.
What we need to do instead is stop, look at the situation, figure out how to handle it in a way that puts everyone at the lowest risk possible. That cow might break her leg, but you usually have more time than you think to figure it out, and it's not worth it to put yourself at risk trying to help that cow in almost every instance. Instead of putting a rope on that leg or undoing the gate and figuring out how to get the cow out by moving the gate instead of the cow, I pushed my crew aside, grabbed the foot, unhooked it from the gate with just my hands, and then promptly got kicked in the face for doing so as a thank you.
Not a terrible deal. Got some stitches out of it right next to my eye. Wound up working the rest of the day with a big bandage on my head to control the bleeding. Finished the preg check, went to the emergency room, got everything checked out. Everything was fine. Now, it could have been very much not fine. I did not stop and assess the situation and figure out a better way to do it. I jumped in without thinking and I got kicked in the face for it.
Most of what we need to do is just stop and think for a second. There's so many different ways to handle a situation and we always have more time than we think, especially if the only thing in danger at the moment is an animal. We just need to stop, step away, make sure we're making the best choice and that we're keeping everyone as safe as possible. Now, there's a lot of things that benefit from just slowing down a little bit, especially around the chute and around headlocks, if we're on a dairy. There's so many things that we need to do and consider when we're working with cattle, and slowing down is a big piece of it. Speed comes with time. If we do things right and we develop good habits right away, things will then move fast after that, but you can't just jump right in, try to work fast right away without first developing the good habits to work smart, doing everything as safely as possible.
One of the big things around headlocks or around the front of a chute is just that cow's head. That cow's head is designed to be a hammer. We just have to put ourselves in a situation where we're never the nail. That means we're not leaning over the top of a cow's head ever. Dairy, beef, doesn't matter. She can throw her head, mean nothing by it, not trying to hurt you at all. She's just so big and their head is designed to bang on things. You're going to get hurt, and I have the stitches in the inside of my mouth to prove it. When we're working around a head, we need to be leaning back, making sure we're not putting our head over the top of that cow's head, especially when we're putting in tags or taking out tags or implanting, we really need to be aware of that. If you need to do something more intrusive than that and you need more control of that head, a halter is a great safety tool to apply.
One of the things I may or may not have talked about on this podcast before is safety around a chute. A chute has a ton of moving parts, especially a hydraulic chute, there's parts that can move everywhere. If I'm around a chute for the first time, even if I feel like I know the brand and I know that chute, the first thing I'm going to do is messing with it. I want to pull on all the levers. I want to know what they do. I want to know where I can stand and where I can't. A lot of these chutes have parts that come out from the sides, especially around the head catch and at the back gate as well. We've got to know where we can stand safely and where we can't.
We also need to know exactly what the levers do, especially when it comes to whether or not that side gate can open. If there's a swing gate on the side, that gate is dangerous. It has a lot of pressure on it and so when we have a lot of pressure on that gate, if you were to pull the wrong lever, meaning well, for whatever reason, you pull the wrong lever and that gate comes open with all the pressure of a cow behind it, someone's going to get seriously injured, if not dead. I want to know how the chute works. I want to know where I can stand and where I can't stand. Those are very, very important things and if you're ever working on a chute and you're not familiar with it, either ask if you can mess with the chute and start playing with it or ask someone to show you how it operates, so that you know where you can stand and what everything does on the chute.
Moving back from the chute, there's a lot of places to get hurt there, too. The alley is a very great place to break an arm or put your arm in a bad spot. If we need to be touching cattle, over the top of that alley is the best way to go. We don't want to be reaching in between bars if we can help it, because if those cattle move forward or back, you've put your arm in a spot where it's going to get jammed up against something hard and the cow is certainly much stronger than you, you're going to pinch that arm. It's either going to break or you're going to have a serious injury in some other way.
Now, a lot of this comes down to how well your facilities are set up. If you have great working facilities that take advantage of cattle's natural behaviors and you can work them in a very low stress manner, everyone's going to be more safe. The people, the cows, everybody, so I encourage people to figure out how to set up your facility as best you can so that you can work cattle in a low stress manner. Everyone will be happier for it. It won't seem as much of a chore. There's a lot of benefits to making sure your facility is set up so that you can work cattle in a low stress way.
I know it's pretty weird to hear me talk about safety, and I am 100% rambling, and Emily's not here to check me on my safety information, but I hope you learn something from listening to a couple of these stories and some of the things that have happened to me, and it will encourage you to slow down and think twice before you do something. Stop and assess the situation and make sure that you're doing it the smartest way and you're looking at all the different angles and all the things that could go wrong and planning for them so that you don't put someone in harm's way.
With that, if you have comments, questions, scathing rebuttals, please send those to That's Check us out on Twitter @UMNnewsroom and @UMNFarmSafety. Please, check out Bradley on Instagram @umnwcrocdairy. Check out our website and please check out the show notes. I have a link to National Farm Safety and Health Week. There's lots of resources there at different events for each day of the week. Thank you for listening, everybody. We will catch you next week.
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