Stay Safe with Livestock

Farmers in Orkney and Dumfries speak of their accidents

Many farmers and crofters never stop to consider why animals behave as they do and, more importantly, what this behaviour could mean to their personal safety. Animal-handling practices are often learned from watching others and from personal experiences growing up on the farm or croft. Too often, this results in unsafe livestock handling and restraint practices. Thankfully most animal incidents are not fatal but too many men, women and children are needlessly injured every year due to a lack of safety awareness. Today, the Farm Safety Week team is challenging farmers and crofters to think about improving livestock handling systems and making them safer and more efficient.


In April 2016, 63-year-old farmer and former Orkney NFU Scotland branch chairman Michael Stevenson was working with one of the 180 breeding cows on his 240-hectare farm in Evie when he experienced something that would change his, and his farm’s practices around calving time forever.

Michael explains: “Usually you know when a cow is aggressive. In this case she was a heifer, which tend to be less maternal than mature cows and did not appear wild. She calved herself but I thought her calf had not sucked so went into the pen to get him to his feet and find milk. I was bent beside her when she suddenly turned, battering me on the ground.

“I don’t have much recollection of what happened before and after the accident, but I’d managed to get over the gate, and shouted on my wife who thankfully was nearby, to come and help me as I could hardly move.”

Michael was taken to hospital, and it was soon realised that he had dislocated his hip and suffered two broken ribs. Michael spent a few days in hospital following an operation to put it back together.

“It was one of our busiest periods and I was off work for around four weeks, but thankfully we have a very good man who has been here for 35 years and he kept things going with the help of neighbours, and a farm worker who had recently retired but came back to assist us,” explains Michael.

Having experienced this accident, Michael admits that this has changed the way he views working with livestock. He concludes: “The accident has made me more cautious when dealing with the cattle. Ahead of this year’s calving we made some simple improvements which will ensure safe working practices. This has included self-locking gates on all of our pens, and ensuring all newly calved cows are secured if they, or their calves, require to be handled.”


In May 2006, Margaret Butler took her two West Highland Terriers for an evening walk in the fields. At the time, Margaret’s family were very much hobby farming, with 10 Angus cross cows and 30 commercial ewes.

Margaret explains what happened: “My two westies decided they were coming with me, as they often did.  A cow had just calved in the field.  The previous year, her calf did not suckle very well, so with my 80-year-old dad, we milked her in the middle of the field to feed the calf.  So, I didn’t even consider that she would have had a change of personality.  She came toward me, so I turned around to come away.  Before I knew, she had sent me flying.  She then came back for a second go at me whilst I was on the ground.  Fortunately, her calf must have shouted and she went back to it.  The whole thing could have only taken a few seconds.

“I never expected the cow to turn on me and I certainly never considered that she could have been aggressive at all.  She must have felt threatened by me.

“I hobbled the 300 yards back to the house to my husband, David, who called an ambulance.  I was in severe pain and did not want to lie flat.  After I had x-rays, the consultant told me that I had broken my back. I had to lie flat on my back for four weeks on an orthopaedic bed, and was in hospital for another two weeks.  

“I wore a back brace all summer.  This was followed by extensive physiotherapy.”

As with many dedicated farmers, Margaret did return to work quicker than most people would have.  She continues: “With us being self-employed I was able to continue with the bookkeeping in the evenings at our chartered surveyors and land agents firm, until we could gradually get back to normal.

Considering the worst case scenario, Margaret comments: “I feel very lucky that I made a full recovery, because things could certainly have been a lot worse.”

Margaret’s concludes: “Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We now don’t take our dogs into the fields where there are livestock, and certainly give newly calved cows much more respect, even the quiet ones.”

“Agriculture is a highly rewarding industry and so vital to the UK economy but it is still one of the riskiest.” adds Jim McLaren MBE, member of Farm Safety Partnership Scotland and NFU Mutual Board member. “Working safely with livestock has many levels and involves more than being ‘careful’ around recently calved cows or cantankerous bulls. In fact, many livestock accidents are not directly related to the animals themselves but caused by improper use of equipment of poorly maintained or poorly built facilities.

“Often farmers don’t make adjustments or modify equipment to make it safer because they are in a hurry or because they think they can just ‘make do’ for economic reasons but farm safety is a lifestyle, not a slogan and ‘because I’m in a hurry’ is not a good enough reason for poor maintenance of equipment and facilities. Safe livestock handling equipment is more of an investment than an expensive luxury.

“Handling cattle always involves risks, the risk of being hurt physically by an animal that is frightened or has been startled and the risk of being hurt due to the misuse of equipment or equipment that is poorly maintained. Over the course of this week, we have worked with our partners to educate and inspire a drive to improve agriculture’s poor safety record. Today it’s all about animals.  Livestock can be unpredictable and the last thing any farmer needs at the busiest time of the year is an accident, but unfortunately it is all too common on Scotland’s farms and crofts.”

Notes to Editors

  • Farm Safety Week is supported by the Farm Safety Foundation, Farm Safety Partnerships, the Health & Safety Executive, Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland and Health & Safety Authority, Ireland. For more information on Farm Safety Week visit or follow @yellowwelliesUK on Twitter/Facebook using the hashtag #FarmSafetyWeek
  • For members of the press who would like to arrange an interview, either with Farm Safety Partnership Scotland or with those featured, or for photographs, email
  • About Farm Safety Week: Farm Safety Week started in 2013 and struck a chord with the farming community with the initiative being recognised by 56 per cent of the farming community according to recent Voice of the Farmer research*. It has grown to include England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland; five countries with a single purpose; to reduce deaths and serious injuries in agriculture. Voice of the Farmer interviewed a sample of 1,800 farmers across the UK in April 2017, matched to UK profile of all farms by country and farm size
  • The Farm Safety Partnership (FSP) Scotland brings together some of the key stakeholders with an interest in farm safety in Scotland. The Partnership comprises The Scottish Government, NFU Mutual, NFU Scotland and Health & Safety Executive.


Contact Ruth McClean on 0131 472 4108

Author: Ruth McClean

Date Published:

News Article No.: 104/17

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About The Author

Ruth McClean

Having worked in the communications and journalism industry for the last 11 years, NFU Scotland’s Communications Manager Ruth McClean understands the needs of journalists and has extensive knowledge of the wider agricultural industry. After growing up in Argyll and Bute and working in the area as a reporter for local newspapers for eight years, Ruth joined NFU Scotland in 2013 in her current role. She is also Editor of the Union’s membership magazine the Scottish Farming Leader.

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