Helpful Tips for Handling Cattle Safely

Every year, we hear of someone killed by a protective cow or bull. Raising cattle is a great way of life. However, keep in mind that these animals can turn aggressive. Being prepared will keep you and your cattle safe.

We all know that farming is one of the most dangerous occupations, yet we often think more in terms of farm machinery, not livestock. Every year, we hear of someone killed by a protective cow or bull. Raising cattle is a great way of life. However, keep in mind that these animals can turn aggressive. Being prepared will keep you and your cattle safe.

First, all beef producers must have a method of handling cattle for routine and emergency work. A properly designed and functioning handling facility should be on the farm before the first beef animal arrives. There is a lot of information from your extension office on handling systems, so I won’t go into details here. I want to focus instead on factors to employ to stay safe.

Use the checklists to evaluate your safety protocol.

Working safely is important for you, your family, employees and for the animals. Being aware of the points here will increase the likelihood that you will enjoy a great way of life.


  1. Closely supervise new and inexperienced family members and/or employees.
  2. When possible, avoid working alone when loading or unloading stock.
  3. Reduce the risk of distraction – e.g. using a cellphone – when working with livestock.
  4. Have a first aid kit near the area of work.
  5. Ensure escape routes are available, clear and accessible.
  6. Ensure the operator is in a safe position when moving cattle.


  1. Ensure latches, bolts and chains on gates are in good working order, and robust enough to contain stock.
  2. Do not overcrowd stock pens. Fill pens to two-thirds capacity to give stock room to move.
  3. Maintain facilities in good condition, grease where appropriate, tighten nuts.
  4. Keep pens and yards free of any obstructions – e.g. protruding nails, bolts, wire, trip hazards – to avoid injury and ensure free-flowing stock.
  5. Ensure the yard is well-designed to assist the smooth flow of cattle.
  6. Ensure loading facilities have well-positioned gates and consider adopting curved chutes and covered sides, to improve cattle movement.
  7. Use the natural following behavior of cattle to move them quietly and smoothly.
  8. Ensure loading ramp is not too steep or too slippery.
  9. Use animal-handling aids to move animals.
  10. Have adequate lighting.
  11. Never poke your head, arms or legs through the rails or boarding into the chute as this becomes a trapping space that may result in serious injury.
  12. Do not lean over an animal’s head.


  1. Never trust any bull — particularly the ‘lonely bull’ reared or kept in isolation.
  2. A bull that turns sideways to you is taking an aggressive posture. You must have an escape route.
  3. Never work bulls on your own.
  4. Never trust a quiet bull.
  5. Never turn your back on a bull.
  6. The older the bull, the more dangerous it can become.
  7. Move confidently – it is vital to demonstrate dominance.
  8. Don’t try to move a dangerous bull on foot or alone; use a vehicle.
  9. Always have a long strong cane or stick.
  10. Keep bulls moving at a trot until they’re well into the paddock and clear of the gate.
  11. Troublesome bulls can be moved by being included with the herd.


  1. Know your cattle andwhich ones are the ones that will be difficult to handle.
  2. Have a system in place to manage difficult cattle. Consider culling. Many breeds now have a docility expected progeny difference. These should be included in your selection criteria.
  3. Avoid the blind spot directly behind cattle. They cannot see you and are more likely to kick when surprised.
  4. Understand that horned cattle are dangerous to other cattle and to you. Unless it is a breed requirement, all cattle should be polled or de-horned.
  5. Consider low-stress handling methods.
  6. If an animal is not caught correctly, missed and caught at the hips, immediately let the animal go and run it through the system again. Do not try to push the animal back in chute or do any management practices.
  7. Isolated animals are more dangerous than those in a group. Keep a buddy with them.
  8. Bulls are more aggressive during mating season and extremely dangerous when fighting.

Zoonotic Disease

We don’t usually think of disease hazards that can be transmitted from animals to humans when we talk about animal handling safety. Nonetheless, microbial hazards are present and you must be alert for them.

  • You should wash your hands with soap and water after handling animals, manure or urine, or animal products such as milk, meat, rumen samples, blood, fluids draining from wounds and placental membranes.
  • It is strongly encouraged that you do not eat or drink in areas where animals, animal wastes or animal products are being handled.
  • Farm clothing should be washed separately from family laundry, using the hot water setting and a disinfecting detergent.

Information adapted from: New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH). Working with Livestock: Fact Sheet. Safe Work, New South Wales. Beef Cattle Handling: A Practical Safety Guide. November 2006. The Victorian Work Cover Authority