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Be alert to the danger of newly calved cows


Experts from Scotland’s Rural College have added their voice to those warning anyone working with stock to take care. 

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The spring calving period for the beef herd has just started but already there are reports of people injured by cows with newborn calves. According to St Boswells-based beef specialist Dr Basil Lowman most attacks on stockpeople are by cows which they have often regarded as docile.


“The ill-natured animals are well known and treated with respect, but that does not mean we should ignore the quieter ones. Every new mother is alive with hormones making her extra protective and if the cow is not used to day-to-day contact with humans anything can set her off and it can happen very quickly.”

Dr Lowman believes modern, efficient beef production has seen a rapid increase in the numbers of cows managed by one person. This has greatly reduced contact between cows and humans. The ideal is always to have two people present to deal with newly-calved cows, but with large numbers of cows calving around the clock it is often difficult.


SRUC urges every person dealing with calving cows to spend some time looking at where cows calve and consider how easy it would be to protect themselves or escape from the pen should the cow turn nasty.

Often calving pens with sheeted gates or solid walls can be impossible to climb if the cow gets between them and the front gate. However, a simple thing like tying a water-filled five-gallon drum in the back corner as a step up to get over the gate can be a life saver.

Another tip is to ensure all gates are hung to ideally leave a gap below of around 45cm (17in) so it is possible to crawl underneath. Fencing off a corner of the pen with a firmly fixed strong gate/feed barrier can also provide a refuge until help arrives.


Dr Lowman says: “Although these suggestions may seem over the top, assessing risk and taking as many sensible precautions as possible is always the key to minimise accidents.


“Always carry a mobile with the first number being someone who can immediately come to help. If you are concerned about losing or damaging your current expensive phone then buy the simplest one to carry with you while you are working with stock.”


Top Tips to stay safe at calving time

    • Never go in with a cow if it is showing any of the following behaviour: Holding its head low to the ground and shaking it from side-to-side, with its ears back or if it is continuously staring at you and shaking its head


    • If a calf needs assistance to breathe, etc. and the cow has been restrained to calve, do not release it until the calf has recovered and been moved back to the pen


    • Never move a newborn calf alone unless the cow is safely penned off


    • Never stand between a cow and its newborn calf


    • If you are attacked try and crawl/roll away from the cow towards safety, for example under a gate or trailer to present as small and non-threatening target as possible


  • If you are called to help a colleague do not go into the pen immediately as you will be putting yourself at risk too. Wait until there are two of you present. If you are alone ring for extra help, then try and distract the cow away or drive into the pen with a tractor, preferably a loader tractor carrying a bale of straw to push the cow away. Would it even be sensible to leave a tractor with a bale on next to the calving pens each evening?


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