Think SAFE at calving time

Date published: 08 March 2023

We are all familiar with the acronym SAFE when it comes to being safety conscious on the farm.

Pictured is Barry Fitzsimons and his grandson Tom just finishing the calving pens set up for this year in preparation for calving.

One of the components of the term SAFE is A for animals. This is especially prevalent now as we enter spring, a key time in the calendar for welcoming new offspring. Freshly calved cows or cows at calving can be a hazard and pose a risk to not only the farmer but also farm family members, both young and old. 

One farmer who shared his experience at a recent Business Development Group (BDG) meeting in County Down is Barry Fitzsimons.

Five years ago, Barry sustained an injury to his hip in an accident caused by an animal on his farm around calving time. This subsequently led to him needing a hip replacement operation.

At the time, Barry, along with his young grandson were turning out two cows and their calves, one new-born and one about a fortnight old, down a lane and into a field. Both cows ran out of the shed into the lane along with the older calf. Within minutes the freshly calved cow noticed her calf was not beside her.

Barry and his young grandson, who was seven years old at the time, were coming behind pushing the new-born calf along the lane toward the cow.

Unfortunately, the cow came back, hitting young Tom to the ground, pushing his leg along the concrete lane. Barry grabbed Tom and pulled him out of harm’s way over to the ditch and then lay on top of him to protect him. The cow then hit Barry before moving off to reunite with her calf. This was a narrow escape for Barry and his grandson, bringing to the fore the need for safety on the farm.

Barry reinforced that at calving time, farmers, even experienced ones, should not only be vigilant at the birth itself but also for those few days after when the cow is developing a strong maternal bond with her new-born.

He also mentioned extra caution is needed when having young children around the farm at calving time. In this case the farmer not only has to keep watch on the cow and calf, but also needs to ensure the safety of themselves and any children present. From a cows’ perspective, he says, the child may pose as a threat resulting in the cow becoming very protective of her new-born and this is when they may become more aggressive.

Since the accident Barry, and his son Craig, have invested in calving facilities, converting and kitting out a shed with calving pens and calving gates, to make it as safe as possible for the operators. They now ensure they have a safe system of work in place including an escape route should the need ever arise.

Barry also now places cow temperament as a priority in any breeding decisions and culls those cows with a poor temperament.  He also pays close attention to the dams’ temperament and to the docility Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) of sires used for any future suckler cow replacements.

Traumatic events like the one Barry experienced, can cause both short and long term health implications which could result in financial hardship if recovery time is prolonged affecting the family as a whole. Barry wanted to share his experience particularly at this time of the year to reinforce the importance of safety at calving time and the extra caution that should be taken when there are older farmers and young children helping out on the farm.

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