let's talk farm animals

Animals on the loose

by Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator

During the past five years living away from home, I have travelled the notorious 401 highway back to Eastern Ontario too many times to count.

Through blistering heat waves and slippery icy pavement, I have endured the three and a half hour drive often thinking how dull, boring and monotonous it has become. It was brought to my attention recently that, in reality, the hustle and bustle of the highway is anything but humdrum. In a matter of seconds all chaos can break out; it’s a special concoction of travelling at high speeds with little focus and numerous distractions. Add in a pinch of road rage and you’ve got the potential for a ticking time bomb.

Accidents are no new reality for those who use the highway to commute to work every day. We share the roads with other commuters, school buses, taxis, vacationers, transport trucks, police and farm animals…yes that’s right folks, farm animals.

In Ontario, due to the distances involved,  the majority of our animals are moved around the province by truck and trailer. There are many different variations of trailers out there, from commercial large tractor trailers to tow-behind-your-pickup truck trailers.

Some of the types of trailers used to move farm animals around Canada.

As livestock expert Jennifer Woods explained to a group of fire fighters and police officers during a recent livestock emergency response course, it is important to familiarize yourself with the basics of farm animal trailers and animal behaviour before you arrive at an accident scene involving them.

Woods spent a day in Ontario recently covering relevant practical information in a sold-out course for police, firefighters and other first responders. Woods’s presentation focused on animal behaviour and handling, trailer design, rescue techniques, chain of command, barn fires, euthanasia and how all of these are altered when you arrive on the scene of an accident involving animals. There was a lot interest from the police and fire fighters in attendance because, they admit, they are often unsure how to handle such situations and are not familiar with farm animals.

Some of the most useful information that Jennifer covered included how to correctly handle animals when they are in an already distressed state. Having grown up on a farm, I would say that I have a fairly good understanding of what works best when handling our cows. I’m no cow whisper, but if you take your time and allow yourself to observe the animals, you develop an understanding of what the best handling techniques are. Even so, I learned a lot from Woods’ practical approach to handling animals. The basics concepts like “slow is fast” and “always be patient” provided a ‘light bulb’ moment for me as I listened to her presentation.

Participants in the course get a first hand lesson on trailer design.

She also emphasized that it is much easier to manage one group of animals in an emergency or truck rollover rather than multiple groups of three or four animals. As proof, this livestock transportation expert showed a video of fire fighters in Alberta unloading a truck of beef cows. The video clearly showed that the animals are much calmer when kept together as a group versus being singled out and more distressed.

Woods also explained flight zones of animals and how in a truck rollover situation, an animal’s flight zone (or personal bubble) is different than when they are grazing lazily in a pasture. An animal’s flight zone can also be used to move them by entering and exiting it and help to direct them to where you want them to go. I found it interesting that the emergency clothing that firefighters and police wear with the reflective tape are very sensitive to livestock, which then increases their flight zone.

She also told us that cattle and horses can see the yellow and green colours often found on firefighters and police uniforms. All this time I thought they were colour blind! Woods travels around North America giving her livestock emergency response courses and has been a consultant on many real life emergencies involving all species of animals.

Farm & Food Care Ontario was fortunate to have her come and share her knowledge and experiences with the participants of the course. We could have spent a whole week with her, maybe even two, taking in her vast experiences dealing with livestock emergencies. There is still a great need for educating our first responders with how to properly manage an accident scene when animals are involved. We hope that developing resources and training materials in addition to this course for first responders in Ontario will give them confidence when handling any emergency involving farm animals.

For more information on Woods’ work, visit www.livestockhandling.net

For Farm & Food Care’s library of emergency resources (including livestock transportation, barn fires and more) visit www.farmfoodcare.org/index.php/animal-care/livestock-emergency-resources


Posted by Farm and Food Care on April 26th, 2012 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Barn fires
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