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Livestock Handling - Key Issues

Key issues regarding the health and safety aspects of livestock handling as per DEFRA

Handling facilities

General cattle handling

Handling in the field

Preparing for slaughter 

Handling Facilities
Proper restraining and handling equipment should be used wherever possible to minimise the safety risks when handling livestock.

Handling aids such as bull poles, halters and pig boards should be used to guard against physical injury.

Smaller animals can be handled using shedding gates or turnover crates. Larger animals should not be handled in restricted areas without containment.

Properly designed races and crushes are essential for routine tasks.

Never work on an animal held by gates alone, or able to move at will. Leg restraints should be used on cattle known or considered likely to kick.

It should be possible for handlers to work safely around both sides of restrained animals without risk from other livestock.

Non-mobile facilities should be firmly secured to the ground. Tractor-mounted facilities should be firmly attached to the three-point linkage.

Handlers should be properly trained. Details of suitable training courses are available from Lantra, training groups and agricultural colleges.

Further information about correct ways to handle livestock is available in the Farmwise Guide to Health and Safety in Agriculture.

Cattle handling
There is no legal age limit for cattle handling, but children under 13 years old and adults over 65 should not normally be allowed to handle cattle.

Sticks and prods should never be used to strike livestock Ė this may breach animal welfare legislation as well as agitating the animal.

Halters and ropes may be useful but will normally require specially instructed users. Always use suitable rope. Do not improvise with baler twine or similar.

Cattle handled daily, such as dairy cows, will be familiar with the process. Allowances should be made for heifers not used to the milking parlour.

Bulls should be handled carefully. They should be ringed at 10 months old and the ring should be inspected regularly. Outer walls must be at least 1.5 m high and strong enough to contain the bull. Fences, walls and gates must not allow children or dogs to enter the pen. Facilities should allow feeding and watering from outside the pen.

A remotely operated gate or yoke system should allow the bull to be restrained before anyone enters the pen.

No one should enter the enclosure when the bull is loose. There should be a refuge or child-resistant emergency escape route.

Further guidance is contained in the Health and Safety Executive information sheet Handling and housing cattle.

In the field
Tasks which have to be carried out in the field without adequate handling facilities should be undertaken with particular care.

A vehicle should be kept close to where the task is being carried out. This can be used as a safe refuge or means of escape.

Ear-tagging may pose particular problems as it may arouse the animalís protective instincts, resulting in risks to the handler.

There should be at least two people present if an animal has to be separated from the herd in the field, or during unsecured ear tagging.

The second person should avoid other animals getting too close to the task, warning the handler if evasive action is necessary.

Portable or fixed field tethers for bulls in fields must be secured fixed to the ground, allowing free movement without entangling the animal.

The tethered connection must pass through the nose-ring, but connections must not be direct to the nose-ring.

The bullís temperament should be such that the handler can approach safely to attach the handling ropes and poles before leading him back to the pen.

Preparing for slaughter
Issues relating to the treatment of livestock prior to slaughter are subject to the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995.

Animals going for slaughter must not be subjected to avoidable excitement, pain or suffering.

Livestock should have no means of escaping, for example from passageways, but they should be able to be easily evacuated if necessary.

Livestock should be moved in a calm, unhurried manner, keeping handling and disturbance, including noise, to a minimum.

Electrical goads should only be used on the hind-quarters of adult cattle or adult pigs if necessary to move them forward where there is space to do so.

Handling should be sympathetic, informed and competent, using well-maintained facilities designed with the welfare of live animals in mind.

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Health and Safety Consultants


Fleet Health and Safety holding professional qualifications in health and safety at NEBOSH level 6, Food Safety, HACCP(hazard analysis critical control point), Business Management, member of IOSH and a member of IIRSM. Fleet Health & Safety UK professional health & safety consultancy. We cover & provide advice & assistance on COSHH, workplace audits, policies, risk management, risk assessments, regulations, food safety, competent person, training, asbestos, method statement and procedures based Scotland


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