Monday, May 20, 2024
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Livestock – More Dangerous Than Mountain Lions, Poisonous Snakes, or Stinging Insects

Cattle and horses account for 90% of all animal-related deaths in the United States, and that number hasn’t changed since the last time researchers collected this data in 2007. Jared Forrester, M.D., the lead investigator for the study covering fatalities from venomous and nonvenomous animals from 2008-2015 says that learning more about deaths due to animals in farm environments would help target practices that would prevent these deaths.

The study, published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, found that there were 1,610 animal-related deaths, and 57% of those were the result of encounters with cattle, horses, dogs, pigs, raccoons and other mammals. Forrester says, “Importantly, most deaths are not actually due to wild animals, like mountain lions, wolves, bears, sharks, etc., but are a result of deadly encounters with farm animals, anaphylaxis from bees, wasps, or hornet stings, and dog attacks.”

That means that, while you ought to know what to do if you encounter a potentially dangerous animal in the wild, the actual risk of death is quite low. What you really need to know is how to protect yourself from bees and wasps and your own livestock. Each year there are 220,000 visits to the emergency room and about 60 deaths as a result of insect stings. Emergency visits and deaths due to animals beat that by a wide margin: over 1 million ER visits, and 201 deaths annually with about $2 billion in healthcare spending added on.

If you’re allergic to stings from bees, wasps and hornets, you should carry an epi-pen. But what should you do around your livestock?

Cull for Safety

You can start by culling animals that demonstrate they’re dangerous. In “Zero Tolerance for Bad Cows,” Kris Ringwall describes what to look for: “Cattle that routinely challenge the producer should be sold. Cattle that are very aggressive and are put in a defensive mode easily should be sold. Cattle that are overreactive to the chute environment should be sold.”

Like Kris, you might be tempted to keep a cow that behaves badly, but who turns up pregnant. So here’s his logic: If a producer always sorted into the trailer the last few heifers or cows to come through the chute, would life get simpler? So, keep or cull? Those with adequate help (who have agility included in their job description) might consider keeping this cow. For those who are more “do it yourself,” the answer sways toward culling. Ask the business partner – the answer is “maybe.” Ask the emergency response team; the answer is “cull.” Ask the night calving crew – the answer is “cull.” Ask the family – the answer is “cull.” Then ask, “Why is she still here?”

“Tame” Cattle Are Not Always a Safe Bet Either

A project I worked on training a group of heifers to eat weeds included a bull that thought he was a house pet. That may have been fine when he was a baby, but as a full grown bull, it was pretty scary. A head the size of my body ramming into me for attention, jealousy expressed by knocking other cows away from me, all were a recipe for disaster that I was fortunate to avoid. This is a bull that I would cull from the herd in a heartbeat.

Know and Pay Attention to the Signs of Aggression

This week’s Classic by the National Grazing Lands Coalition (NatGLC) tells you what an animal is trying to tell you with its body language and what you should do in turn. These tips will help you stay safe not just around bulls, that have a deserved reputation for being dangerous, but around the cows you spend more time with on a daily basis.

Finally, just because a sheep or a goat is a little smaller than you, doesn’t mean they can’t hurt you too. I worked with a guy who grabbed a goat by the horns with one hand and when the goat twisted its head that fellow ended up with a broken finger. I’ve seen people knocked down by sheep who decided they were going through a gate no matter what. None of this needs to happen, and usually it’s a result of us getting in too big a hurry. So slow down, and be safe.

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. In 1978 I was almost killed by a jersey bull that had the best blood lines at that time but we shipped him that day. Nothing worth injuries or death (for others to deal with). This incident has left me very cautious around livestock. I have worked with dairy cattle for 60 years but have the ability to work smoothly with them. I’m 75 now with not so good knees so I’m even more cautious. We have 3 milk cows and 5 beef brood cows, 3 young steers, 3 young beef

    • I am with you do what you love, what you can with care In 4 days I will be 80 so we have to know when to hold them and when to fold them.We both can say it is better to be a has been than a never was.

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