In Australia, Farm Safety week is generally held in the third week of July. The week is an opportunity to focus on the issues surrounding farm safety and ways to reduce the risk to farm staff, farm families and visitors to farms.
Personally I don’t think a week is long enough! Farm safety should be the priority for all us every day! The statistics around farming accidents are quite frightening. The National Centre for Farmer Health highlighted some of the statistics:
“In 2017, the rate of work-related injury fatalities for agriculture was 16.5 deaths per 100,000 workers. Agriculture continues to be the highest risk occupational group—with over 10 times the rate of fatality when compared to the general employed population. 27% of all work-related deaths occurred in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries”
“Workers over the age of 55 years account for over half (55%) of all fatalities, with two-thirds of all deaths occurring in sheep, beef cattle and grain farming. Children under the age of 15 years are also a high-risk group, particularly when playing or helping out with farm jobs.”
The concerning issue is that in the past 10 years or so, the level of injury and deaths on farms haven’t really changed. So I reckon we really need to do more to reduce those risks.
So why is farming so dangerous? I think there are many reasons. The combination of issues associated with working with machinery and large, fast unpredictable livestock can be a risk. I also think that when you combine stress, fatigue, weather and exposure you increase the risks. Lastly I think there is a real risk called “attitude”.
For some reason there is an attitude towards farm safety that sees trying to be safe as being “soft”. This week I’ve been sharing posts on Facebook about Farm Safety. The response to these posts has been interesting.
For instance, did you know that horses and cattle are the most deadly animals in Australia? In the years between 2008 and 2017, horses or cattle killed 77 people. In addition the number of serous injuries was significant. I know several people who have suffered significant injuries working with cattle. In response to that post, I received comments such as:
“We don’t all push pencils you know. Leave the bush to the bush let us do what we got to do.”
“If it is the life style you like you will not be worried about the knocks and bruising. If you do not like the chance of being hurt find another job.”
I find this interesting. A little research shows many of these comments come from young males. There is a level of friction there that sees thinking about safety as being something that will stop them enjoying their job or their career.
But will it really? Being safe in your job is something we all have to consider. It is the law, and we have a duty to ourselves and others to look out and manage safety at work.
Doing your job and thinking safely doesn’t mean that everything has to change. Some things are always going to be inherently dangerous. But there are ways to make the job safer.
I use a risk matrix for many of my jobs now. I’ve been using this largely in response to my roles as a leader and manager of other people. When I was a fireman the most important consideration was that none of my crew would be injured or worse. And its no different with my clients or co-workers. I want to look out for them.
The matrix looks at what is the risk of an event occurring (its likelihood) and the consequences of the event happening. Now just because an event or a job is considered high risk, doesn’t mean it cant be done. What it mean is you have to think about ways to reduce the risk.
Can you reduce the risk by changing the way you do things? Can you reduce the risk by a mechanical means – e.g replacing a head bale on a crush; a guard around a silo ladder; or can you remove the risk. Would some training help? Simple changes could be the difference between an event being high risk or medium risk.
Not long ago I saw this statement
“One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up instead of what they have to gain”
I think this pretty well sums up lots of responses to farm safety. Making a change to be safe doesn’t mean losing your ability to enjoy being on a horse, driving a tractor or doing any of the other tasks we do in agriculture. But if you can take a few moments to assess the risk, think if there is a safer way and work to that, you will be that one step closer to coming home safe every day.
The impact of cold weather on your livestock isn’t to be underestimated. So far this July we have already seen several strong cold fronts sweep across southern and eastern Australia. These fronts have been accompanied by strong winds, snow and sleet and then days of intense frosts.
These events have a big impact on your livestock. The demand to stay warm requires extra energy. At present the intense drought conditions mean many livestock are low in body condition and surviving on minimal rations. The combination of low body reserves and reduced energy intake means your stock is less able to cope with the cold, and at greater risk of dying.
How does cold affect your cattle?
We often assume cattle can cope with cold conditions more easily than other species like sheep. However, cattle can be just as impacted by the cold as any other species. As a warm-blooded animal, cattle have a normal temperature of 380C. Under most circumstances cattle can cope with some temperature fluctuations without needing to expend too much extra energy. As the season changes they grow thicker coats, and in periods of cold weather they change their grazing patterns to find shelter.
However this behaviour can only go so far. If temperatures fall to what is known as the ‘lower critical temperature” your cattle will start to be cold stressed. To cope they start to require more energy to stay warm. And in this situation they need to have more energy in their diets.
Some research by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture in Canada identified the differing levels of lower critical temperature, depending on cattle coat thickness. These levels do vary depending on coat thickness.
Lower Critical Temperature
Summer coat or wet coat
Heavy winter coat
These temperatures don’t take into account the impact of wind speed. Wind has the biggest impact on the lower critical temperature. This can be seen below
Looking at the table, if the wind was only 8km /hour on a 40c Day, the actual air temperature is really 10C.
This is close to the Lower Critical Level for cattle with a dry winter coat. But a wet coat after rain means your animals are at real risk of cold stress.
Cold and wet conditions have a massive impact on sheep programs. At greatest risk are lambs that are often unable to cope with the impact of cold weather. Rain and moisture significantly increases the risk of mortality. As with cattle, sheep manage to cope to some degree with cold by changing behaviour and seeking shelter. They also have a fleece that will offer some protection.
However its important not to overestimate how effective a fleece may be. The table below highlights the Lower Critical Temperatures of Sheep
Lower Critical Temperature (ºC)
5-mm fleece (fixed)
As with cattle, when wind speed increases, the impact on Lower Critical Temperature is much greater. And for lambs with no fleece and a large surface area and low body mass, their energy loss is very high.
Managing the Risk
In practical terms it's impossible to avoid cold fronts. However we can manage for them. The options that are available to help your stock cope with cold conditions include:
- Increasing rations ahead of the cold front: Hay is a very good option to increase a ration. It is more slowly digested and the process of digestion helps stock stay warmer as well as getting more energy. However it’s no good just offering a bit! You need to increase your rations by 10 – 20%. If your stock are light in condition or slick coated cattle I’d definitely be increasing to 20% ahead of and during the cold period.
- Provide shelter. Breaking the wind speed up can have a dramatic effect on improving conditions for your stock. Moving them to sheltered paddocks that have trees and shrubs that break up the wind will be vital. There are plenty of well proven strategies and studies that show the role shelter has in livestock survival
- Longer term, consider developing shelterbelts and wind breaks to moderate the wind across the farm. You certainly can’t grow shelter over night, so in the short term consider what other options you have to shelter your stock.
Cold fronts often only last for a few days, and with adequate warning you can prepare your stock to cope with the challenge. It is important to make your plans happen when the fronts are forecast. Don’t leave it to the day of the windy and snow to start doing something. Often moving stock in those conditions makes it worse not better! Pre preparation is everything to give your stock a chance!
Purchasing new bulls for a program is a significant event for any producer. While many people consider the immediate cost of the bull to be the most pressing consideration, there is much more to consider than his actual cost! A bull will make a contribution to a herd that will extend for up to 15 years. So the lifetime cost of that bull in a herd is much greater than what you may pay at auction.I spend a lot of time with producers looking at bulls before sales. I’m often conscious that a large number of people I chat to have only a general idea of the characteristics of the bull that they want. As I wrote earlier, the question “what do I think of this bull?” is a hard one to answer. As we approach the spring bull selling season I’ve prepared a few suggestions to help producers prepare ahead of their next bull purchase.
- Know what you want to achieve in your herd
Your current market – are your steers and heifers meeting the weight, fat and eating quality specifications?
- Your environment – are your cows the size that suits your pasture growth patterns throughout the year
- Is your herd fertility as high as it can be? Are your cows going into calf early, delivering calves easily and rearing those calves to weaning?
- Are there traits you would like to improve further or correct with genetics?
- Use breed websites to search for bulls with specific EBVs that meet you criteria. This can be useful, however it may mean you need to do some additional searching to find the bulls you have identified with a particular breeder.
- I use on line sale catalogues available through the breed websites. This option will bring up the bulls listed at your chosen breeders sale. The easiest way to find the bulls that suit your criteria is to click on the option that asks if you would like to link to Breed Object. This will bring up the bulls with their EBVs and Index values, which makes searching much easier.
3. Use the IndexesIndexes were developed to help make selection easier in a couple of ways. The first is to remember that Indexes are developed to reflect both the short-term profit that would come from using a bull through his actual progeny. While longer term profit is the influence his daughter have on a herd. The Indexes combine the animals EBVs for their impact on the traits that impact on a specific production and market system.
I personally tend to find the Index that best suits a program and look at the top 5 bulls in the catalogue. If you need to adjust a trait for a reason, one that you have identified earlier, you can then go and fine tune your selection on specific EBVs.
- Arrive early and spend as much time as you need looking at your chosen bulls. Don’t worry about the other bulls in the pen, or what other people like or don’t like! Your herd is your concern and the bulls you’ve identified are the ones that meet your objectives.
- Look at those bulls and have a checklist. Are the bulls structurally sound? Do they reflect your maturity pattern? What is their temperament like? Do they have the muscle pattern you need?
If you do this properly you’ll have time to enjoy the steak sandwich and the social catch up! You’ll also find that when you ask me ‘what do I think of this bull?” I’ll be able to have a much more useful conversation with you!
- Producing Optimal Carcasses
- Whats your attitude towards farm safety
- Prepare for the cold fronts!
- Are you properly prepared to buy a new bull?
- What do I think of this bull?
- Selection to Increase Saleable Meat Yield
- Judging steers in a show ring
- Know the risks of Nitrate & Prussic Acid in your feed
- How long will your stock water last?
- How Can You Help Our Rural Communities?
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