The abundance of new life on the farm at this time of the year leads to a lot of antics on the part of animals.
It is wonderful to watch the babies get busy with play we call ‘horsing around.’ Calves and foals are romping, the first chicks are peeping, the piglets are squealing. Big farm, little farm, old farm, or new farm — there is an abundance of life!
It is also a time when our children are out and about with curious minds — drifting towards the field, pen, or barn that houses our food animals and companion pets. Who can resist a new batch of puppies or kittens? Not many of any age.
At the Alberta Farm Animal Care Conference in Olds earlier this year, emergency response expert Rebecca Husted reminded us that the farm is not all puppy dogs and butterflies.
Things get a little weird on the days we least expect them to. The new foal is upside down in a trough and no one can really figure or how or why. The ram is walking around with a bale feeder on his head, and that most curious of mama cows has just woven her front leg into three squares of a page-wire fence.
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And while this is a bit of a nuisance, it is also a place of potential injury.
I have written on these pages before about the importance of a helmet when riding ATVs, bikes, motorized bikes and stock but I had a wake-up call when Husted very clearly articulated the importance of a helmet in dealing with these incidences on the farm.
We often rush to aid the animal. But consider this: The natural response of a trapped or cast (spine downhill or upside down) creature is to flail their legs and to pull away from pressure. The colt will be flailing, the cow backing up and further injuring herself, the ram (well, you should be used to that by now) is strong and very stubborn.
Protecting our heads in these situations is the first consideration.
Sudden movements do not allow for us to get out of the way in time and the fear the animal is feeling makes its next move totally unpredictable.
Often we need to bend down. In the case of the horse in the trough, one might be able to carefully tip the trough but if not it involves getting down and putting netting or bands under the animal to lift it out. As soon as your head goes down you are at full risk.
With the cow, she will be pulling back, but once you start working there you may be seen as a threat. While your head is down working on the wire, hers could be coming your way and at a great force. Once released, she may also choose to leap ahead. You just don’t know.
As for the ram, well out comes the cutting torch again and he can swing pretty hard.
In addition, anything we are working on can come down or apart for unknown reasons and fall on us. If the feeder is full of hay, then there is a risk of fire. Mitigating that risk ahead of time is important. Getting halfway done and having the farm catch on fire saves neither the ram nor any time.
How we protect ourselves is important and there is a list of things you should have as part of your farm safety kit. Find out how to prepare for an emergency by going to the website of Alberta Farm Animal Care (go to www.afac.ab.ca, click on the Resources pull-down menu and then Emergency Preparedness).
Planning could be simple as: In case of a livestock issue call 911 and asking for one of the 25 Emergency Livestock Equipment Handling Trailers found in Alberta. A team can come out and safely dislodge a stuck beast or come to your aid in the case of a rollover.
Or it could be taking the time to put on safety equipment, informing a second person of your intent, and asking for backup. Or it may be a full manual on what to do in every possible situation for the farm family and the employees.
Monthly safety meetings with a review on how things were handled are a good start. This makes safety procedures a familiar practice and makes it easier to say to a co-worker, ‘Hey dude, let’s get on a helmet and a kick vest before we release that bronco from that gate.’
And for those young girls and boys who are working with a green or fresh horse, please don’t let them into the round pen without a helmet. A fall or a drag on the ground or along the outer walls is a pretty common occurrence.
We want our kids, parents and staff to come back home unbroken and ready and able to enjoy the next bit of horsing around.