Understanding the behavior of dairy animals is important for reducing work-related injuries on dairy farms.
About two-thirds of animal-related farm accidents in Minnesota take place on dairy farms, according to a survey of nearly 2,000 farms.
Kevin Janni, engineer with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, cites several animal behavior factors related to accident risk.
--Panoramic vision: Cattle have a large panoramic field of vision--they can see everything around them, except what is immediately behind their hindquarters. Approaching from the side or front can be less startling to the animals then approaching from behind.
--Cows with new calves: A cow with her new calf can be defensive and difficult to handle. Avoid getting between the cow and her calf. Keep an eye on the cow. Carry out newborn calf treatment in an area isolated from the cow.
--Dairy bull aggression: Dairy bulls are much more aggressive by nature than cows. Although some dairy bulls appear gentle and calm, they may react unexpectedly, inflicting serious injuries or death on the bull handler. Bulls raised alone or not properly socialized may be more aggressive than those raised in groups. Never consider a bull safe, and don't let your children play with a bull, even if you have raised the animal.
--Noise and crowds: Sudden exposure of dairy cattle to noise and crowds, especially in a barn, may make the animals nervous and difficult to handle. Calm cattle are easier to move. It can take 30 minutes for cattle to calm down after being excited.
--Horned animals: Horned cows or bulls are more inclined to attack handlers. Make sure all cattle on the farm are dehorned.
--Kicking: Cows commonly kick forward and out to the side. They also have a tendency to kick toward the side when they have pain from inflammation or injuries. Therefore, if a cow is suffering from mastitis in only one quarter, you may want to consider approaching her from the side where there is no mastitis when examining or milking.
--Dry cows: Dry cows usually behave more aggressively after coming back from the pasture. It may take them a week or so to get used to barn life again.
More information is available in a U of M Extension publication entitled "Safe Work Practices on Dairy Farms," FO-0878. Printed copies are available for purchase through county offices of the U of M Extension Service, or by calling 612-624-4900 or 800-876-8636.