COLUMBUS, Ohio – Stay calm. When you've got a 1,000-pound cow running around loose in a public place, that's the best advice that Ohio State University Extension ag safety professional Kent McGuire can offer.
"The more calm you are, the more calm you can keep the animal simply because it's in an environment it's not used to," said McGuire, Ohio AgrAbility Program coordinator of OSU Extension's Agricultural Safety and Health.
Two cows were definitely out of their element on April 21 when they broke loose from the Ohio State University Veterinary Hospital and, for 90 minutes, were pursued by public safety officials across campus before finally being corralled. The incident attracted the attention of hundreds of faculty, staff and students.
Public safety officials tried using police cruisers and soccer goal nets, among other techniques, to confine the animals so they could be captured, all of which didn't work out so well.
"When you have a situation where an animal has escaped and it's running free, you want to try and implement the same routine that it would be used to in a farm environment," said McGuire. "A cow is not used to a police cruiser chasing it, so it's going to try and get away. You want to give it some room to move around. Obviously you don't want it running down the road, but don't keep it too confined."
McGuire said that setting up a perimeter that would have given the animals some freedom of movement yet keep the public at a safe distance might have been a more successful way of corralling the animals.
With one officer injured in the incident, McGuire said that it was a situation where understanding the behavior of an animal, or even the behavior of specific breeds, is key to keeping yourself and the animal safe.
"Whether one is dealing with a loose animal in a public place or a farmer handling livestock on the farm, you don't want to take for granted the idea that you can properly manage an animal in any given situation," said McGuire.
Fatalities from livestock are rare, but injuries, even minor in nature, are quite common. Whether it involves a beef cow, dairy cow, pigs, goats, sheep or specialty livestock like llamas and alpacas, anyone can be bitten, kicked, stepped on, pinned, crushed, bumped or run over.
"When you are staring at a 1,000-pound or 1,500-pound animal, you certainly don't want to be the victim of its aggression," said McGuire.
Due to the nature of the job, farmers are more likely to encounter injuries from livestock. McGuire offers the following injury-prevention tips to stay safe:
• Understand and study the typical behaviors of the livestock you are working with.
• Herd livestock such as cattle or sheep can become agitated or stressed when one animal is isolated from the herd.
• Maternal female livestock can become aggressive in an effort to protect their young.
• Mature male livestock can become aggressive in an attempt to show dominance.
• Understand aggressive warning signs such as showing of teeth, ears laid back, or stomping of feet.
• Avoid startling an animal by making it aware of your approach before getting too close.
• Move calmly, deliberately and patiently around livestock. Avoid quick movements or loud noises that may startle animals.
• Excessively changing the animal's environment or daily routine can take the animal out of its comfort zone.
• Avoid being in travel paths during the feeding of a herd or large group of livestock.
• Be aware of your surroundings and always leave an escape route when working in close quarters with livestock.
• Bottle-fed or show livestock can become playful because of constant handling. After being placed back in with the general livestock as an adult, they may still approach you in a playful manner when you are not expecting it.
• Be patient and avoid frustration when working with difficult or stubborn livestock. Back injuries, muscle strains and slip /fall injuries can occur when frustrations lead to over aggressive handling practices.
"During this time of the year, sometimes there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to do everything that needs to get done on a farm," said McGuire. "When you are out in the fields 10 or 12 hours a day and then have to come home and take care of livestock at 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock at night, it's easy to become complacent around livestock."