Livestock Safety and Handling

Livestock Safety and Handling

Safety in the Large Animal Veterinary Practice

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Recent data show a death rate of 21 workers per 100,000 in the agricultural industry and 110,000 disabling accidents involving farm workers per year. Although livestock cause relatively few deaths per year, they are the number one cause of injuries on the farm. Human error is a major reason for these accidents. Being tired, not paying attention, and using poor judgment are frequent causes of life-threatening accidents. The livestock themselves are not the only area where safety precautions should be considered; chemical safety, environmental safety, animal disease, gain handling, building problems, and fire safety should also be considered.

Chemical safety is extremely important. Some of the drugs used in the livestock industry could cause a female employee to abort with absorption of the drug through the skin. Some drugs can be fatal if injected accidentally into a human instead of the intended animal. Veterinary technicians should always read the labels of the chemicals or drugs they are handling. Technicians should store and handle the drugs according to the label or package insert. Veterinary technicians should follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards when working in any veterinary practice.

Environmental safety is important. Technicians should not handle livestock in unfavorable weather conditions without appropriate protection. Lightning and inclement weather can be deadly.

Wearing clothing appropriate for the weather is important. The proper attire can help prevent heat stroke. During warm weather, wearing lightweight, light-colored cotton is recommended. Khaki pants are lighter than denim pants, keeping technicians cooler in extremely warm weather. Sweating in the warm weather can cause dehydration. Technicians should consume water periodically throughout the day to prevent dehydration. In cold weather, wearing layers of clothes, long johns, warm socks, a hat, insulated boots, and gloves is recommended. If you layer your clothes, you can always remove a layer if you become warm. Personnel who handle livestock should not wear jewelry.

Animal disease is another area of concern for technicians. Several diseases and parasites of the livestock industry have zoonotic potential. Precautions should be taken when there is a risk for exposure to these types of diseases. Disease prevention is important not only for zoonotic disease but also for biosecurity (Fig. 2-1). Technicians should wear masks, disposable gowns, disposable shoe covers, and disposable gloves and use disinfectant footbaths to help prevent disease transmission.

Grain handling can be dangerous for the technician or producer. Avoid wearing loose clothing around augers and power takeoffs (PTOs). People who drive grain/livestock trucks cannot see all areas around the semitruck and trailer and may not be able to see you (Fig. 2-2). The grain itself can be dangerous; when piled, it can develop air pockets that are almost impossible to get out if a person falls into them.

Buildings with cement floors can become slick when wet, causing you to fall. If buildings are not maintained, jagged edges of metal or wood can cut veterinary personnel, producers, or even livestock. Equipment can provide areas for damage to fingers and hands if they are squished between the metal and the animal.

Steps to prevent fire should be considered. Hay burns quickly when ignited and can destroy entire barns in minutes. Malfunctioning equipment as well as lightning and human error can be sources of fire.


Rope Care

Ropes are a valuable piece of equipment in the large animal industry. Ropes can be used for casting, halters, and leg restraint. Ropes should be inspected before use. If manufactured lead ropes are being used, metal clasps should be inspected for rust and free moving pieces. Ropes that are dirty or have kinks, stress points, tears, or frayed ends should be repaired or removed from use in the veterinary clinic. The four main ways to fix fraying at the end of a rope are (1) melting the end of the rope with fire (nylon ropes), (2) tying an overhand knot in the end of the rope, (3) coating the end of the rope with a stop fray product, and (4) whipping (Fig. 2-3). Faulty ropes can cause serious injuries to veterinary personnel, clients, and the animals. Ropes should be cleaned with warm water. Detergent should not be used on a rope because it deteriorates the fibers and results in a weaker rope, thus shortening the lifespan of the rope.


Whipping can be used to stop fraying at the end of a rope. You will need a smaller cord to wrap around the rope (Fig. 2-4A). It is better to have more cord than not enough. Fold the cord in half. Lay the cord on the rope, with the connected end of the cord, on the end of the rope (Fig. 2-4B). Then, pick up one strand of the cord and pull it toward the top of the rope so that the shorter end of the cord is about image inch longer than the area of fraying you would like to cover. While holding the cord in place, take the long end of the cord and wrap it around the short end of the cord and rope, working toward the end of the rope (Fig. 2-4C and D). Once the cord is wrapped completely around the end of the rope up to the bighted end, pass the cord through the loop and pull tight (Fig. 2-4E). Then take the image inch of cord on the other end and pull it. This will secure the whipping and hide the loop (Fig. 2-4F and G). Clip the extra strands of cord from each end of the whipping, and you are finished. Whipping can also be used to store or hang ropes. The only difference is that you are just whipping around the single strand of cord instead of two ropes. The rope will be finished in the same way except you do not pull your loop all the way under, just enough to keep it from untying (Fig. 2-5).


When ropes are stored, they should be stored using “hanking.” Hanking works well for long lengths of ropes and electrical cords. Make a loop in one end of the rope (Fig. 2-6A). While holding the loop with one hand, reach through the loop and pull the long end of the rope (Fig. 2-6B). Pull the long end through the original loop just enough to create another loop (Fig. 2-6C). Repeat the process until the entire rope is chained together. Once the last of the rope has been chained, place the end of the rope through the last loop and tighten (Fig. 2-6D). To unravel, remove the end from the last loop and pull. It should unravel easily. If it does not, try pulling on the other end of the rope.

Knots and Hitches

Knots are an “intertwining of one or two ropes in which the pressure of the standing part of the rope alone prevents it from slipping.” Hitches are a temporary fastening of a rope to a hook, post, or other object, with the rope arranged so that the standing part forces the end against the object with sufficient pressure to prevent slipping.

The standing part of the rope is the longer strand of rope and is usually attached to an animal. The end is the shorter strand of the rope; this is the strand often manipulated. A bight is a sharp bend in the rope. A loop or half hitch is a complete circle formed in the rope. Loops can open toward you or away from you. In a throw, one rope is wrapped around another to make part of a knot.

Reefer’s Knot

Begin by making one throw (Fig. 2-10A). Then make a bight in one end of the rope. Fold the bight back over the other end of the rope (Fig. 2-10B). Take the unbighted end and wrap over the bight and through the hole between the first throw and the bighted end (Fig. 2-10C). Pass the rope through the hole (Fig. 2-10D). Then pull the two ropes in opposite directions (Fig. 2-10E). To untie, pull the loose end of the bight. It should unravel easily.

Tom Fool’s Knot (Double Bowline Knot)

The tom fool’s knot can be used to tie two legs of an animal together. Both sides of the tom fool’s knot are adjustable, making it easy to accommodate any size leg. Begin by finding the middle of the rope. Hold your hands about 12 inches apart. First create a small loop in the rope. Hold this loop with your left hand. Then create a second loop in your right hand (Fig. 2-11A). Look down at the top of the rope; one of the loops should be toward you, the other loop should be away from you in reference to the piece of rope connecting the two loops (Fig. 2-11B). Now pass the two loops over each other (Fig. 2-11C). Then take your left index finger and reach underneath the loops and pull the opposite loop to the left. At the same time, take your right index finger over the loops and pull the opposite loop to the right (Fig. 2-11D to F). To test the loop, pull both loose ends (Fig. 2-11G). To adjust the size of each loop, just pull on the loops. You can secure the loops to a specific size by tying a square knot over the top of the tom thumb’s knot.

Quick-Release Knot

The lead rope can be used to tie the animal’s head to a secure object, although this is rarely necessary and may have disastrous consequences if the horse panics and tries to run away. For most veterinary procedures, tying the animal does not justify the risks involved. If tying the head is necessary, use only a modified slip knot that can be released in an emergency, and allow the animal enough slack to allow some movement of its head and neck. The less ability the horse has to move its head, the more likely it will resist. Also, a horse should never be tied with a chain over its nose or in its mouth. Never leave a tied horse unattended. Be sure that whatever object the animal is tied to will not break and be dragged by the animal if it breaks free. Horses and cattle can sometimes react to loud noises or movements, creating a dangerous situation. Quick-release knots allow the veterinary technician to easily approach the animal from the side, pull on the end of the rope, and release the animal from wherever it is tied.

First start by passing the rope around the post or object you would like to tie to. Some people prefer to pass the rope around the post twice. Make a loop in the end of the rope that is not attached to the animal. Hold the loop in your left hand. Hold the loose end of the rope in your right hand (Fig. 2-12A). Lay the loop over the loose end of the rope in your right hand (Fig. 2-12B). Work close to the post to ensure the least amount of slack. Reach though the loop with your thumb and finger on the right hand grasping the loop from under the rope attached to the animal (Fig. 2-12C and D). Pull the loop in your thumb and finger to the right and the end attached to the animal to your left (Fig. 2-12E). Some horses are very intelligent and have figured out how to untie themselves by grasping the end not attached to the horse. Some people slip the end of the rope through the loop to ensure the horse does not escape. However, remember you must remove the end before pulling or it will not release. To ensure you have tied the knot correctly, pull on the loose end of the rope—it should untie easily. If excess amounts of lead rope are hanging from the knot, you can hank the end of the rope to keep it off the ground. You should practice tying this knot from the other side of the horse to ensure you can do it both ways. It can become confusing. Also practice tying to horizontal and vertical bars.

Sheet Bend

A sheet bend is used to tie two ropes together. First begin by making a bight in one of your ropes (Fig. 2-13A). Then slide the end of the other rope underneath the bight (Fig. 2-13B). Pick up the end of the rope and pass it over one side of the bight. Then bring the rope under the bight and back over through the bight (Fig. 2-13C). Place the end under the first strand that is still inside the bight and bring it up over the side of the bight (Fig. 2-13D). Pull both ends in opposite directions (Fig. 2-13E).


Bowlines are used to create a loop that can easily be placed around the animal’s neck. They are nonslip and are safe for this use. First, begin by making a circle in the rope (Fig. 2-14A). The circle should be the size of loop you want when finished. Hold your fingers on the long end of the rope and drop the shorter end that will make up your loop. At the level of your fingers make a small loop (Fig. 2-14B and C). Grab the end you just dropped and pull it through your loop (Fig. 2-14D). Place the end behind the cross made by your loop and bring the end back through your loop (Fig. 2-14E). Now tighten the knot (Fig. 2-14F and G).

Bowline on the Bight

A bowline on the bight can be used to restrain an animal’s legs and neck. First begin by folding your rope completely in half. From here on out, pretend that it is just one rope. You will never separate the two strands. Make a loop of the desired size (Fig. 2-15A). Then hold your thumb over the crossed portion of the ropes in the loop. Take the loose strands and wrap them around your thumb (Fig. 2-15B). Once around both sides of the ropes, stick the ropes back through the hole made by the placement of your thumb. Then place the strands through the loop (Fig. 2-15C). Pull on the large loops to tighten the rope (Fig. 2-15D).

Tail Tie

The tail tie can be used to hold the tail out of the way during veterinary procedures. A tail rope should never be tied to an immovable object. The tail rope is not a substitute for the hindquarters; if an animal demonstrates that it cannot provide any support of its own rear body weight, the animal should not be left dangling by a tail rope. The tail tie is performed just beyond the end of the last coccygeal vertebrae (Fig. 2-18).

No part of the vertebral column should be included in the tie; only the tail hairs are incorporated into the knot. Gather all of the hair and fold it over the rope. Hold the hair together with your right hand. Bring the short end of the rope underneath the tail. Make a bight in the short end of the rope. Hold the bight with your thumb and forefinger. Slide the bight over the tail, one strand on the top and one strand on the bottom. There should be a loop where your thumb and forefinger are located. Pass the short end of the rope up through the 1oop. Take the two loose ends of the rope and pull in opposite directions.


Restraint is the term used to imply control of an animal and may be necessary for medical and nonmedical procedures. The two types of animal restraint are physical restraint and chemical restraint. Sometimes both must be used to accomplish a procedure. Physical restraint refers to methods that are applied to the animal with or without use of special equipment. Chemical restraint refers to the use of pharmaceuticals to alter the animal’s mental or physical abilities.

Restraint is more of an art than a science. Skilled restrainers know the behavior and nature of the species they work with. This level of savvy takes time to acquire and is often best learned by watching experienced personnel. Good restraint involves understanding the natural instincts of each species being handled, being able to read an individual’s temperament, and recognizing the extent of handling and training that an individual has (or has not) received. Each animal is an individual, and each has a different background. A method of restraint that is totally effective for one animal may be completely ineffective for another. Avoid a cookie-cutter approach in which all animals are treated similarly. Be flexible. When the selected method of restraint is not working, go to plan B. Realize that you cannot force restraint on an animal that is intent on not accepting it, especially when the animal outweighs and outmuscles you many times over.

Be sure to plan ahead for the procedure. Few things are more frustrating than struggling to get an animal properly restrained, only to realize that a piece of equipment is out of reach or is not working properly. Veterinary technicians should always familiarize themselves with the facility before beginning a procedure. You must understand the flow of the alleyways, where the animals will be coming from and where they are being asked to go. Technicians should also become familiar with the proper operation of all equipment. Each working chute, although similar in design, will have differences, and it is essential to become familiar with those differences before handling the livestock. The safety of the personnel and the animals requires this understanding. Although in theory all livestock equipment would be in tip-top shape, in reality the facilities available on some farms are in various states of repair and disrepair, and some small “backyard” farms may not have any special facilities at all. The ability to improvise, and remain safe, is essential.

Animals should be protected from dangers such as sharp objects, hooks, buckets, loose boards, and light fixtures in case the animals rear, kick, or throw the head or body. Do not risk serious lacerations or fractures from restraint for an otherwise simple procedure. Survey the area for potential hazards before beginning a procedure. The best prevention is to take the animal to an area without potential hazards or remove the hazards where possible. Patience is a virtue, and your virtue will be tested. Some procedures simply cannot be done safely on certain individuals in certain situations.

Take good care of your personal safety. Avoid getting into a position from which you cannot leave quickly, such as stall corners or between the animal and a fence or wall. Also, do not be afraid to speak up if you are uncomfortable with a given situation or not up to the task. Your safety is of the utmost importance.

Another consideration is the possibility of professional liability lawsuits. The veterinarian is recognized legally as an expert and is responsible for anticipating the responses of his or her patients to veterinary procedures. Sometimes the veterinarian’s choice of restraint is influenced by this consideration and may even lead to the veterinarian’s refusal to perform certain procedures. The safety of the animal and the safety of the people handling the animal must be not only legal but ethical.

Finally, realize that any form of restraint can become abusive. Applying a restraint method improperly or for too long can cross the line of humane restraint. Use the least amount of restraint necessary to do the job safely, and do not apply the restraint any longer than necessary.

Covering the Eyes

This is a time-honored method that can be applied to one or both of the animal’s eyes. Sometimes, the animal will be submissive if it cannot see the area being worked on. Covering the eye on the same side as the procedure is the most common method but often is applied incorrectly. Placing the hand completely over the eye to force it shut usually is unnecessary and often is met with resistance (Fig. 2-20A). All that is necessary is to block the animal’s view of the procedure by using an open hand like a curtain but allowing the animal to keep its eye open (Fig. 2-20B).

Some animals respond favorably to blindfolding (Fig. 2-21). These individuals and situations must be carefully selected because not all animals accept a blindfold. Blindfolding is usually done by placing a towel over both eyes and tucking it underneath the halter. The blindfold should be easily removable and quickly accessible by the handler in case the animal panics.

Physical Restraint of Horses

Much of horses’ behavior relates to the fact they are prey animals. When placed in a fearful situation, their natural instinct is to run away. Sometimes this instinct is so strong that they injure themselves in their effort to flee. Few horses become aggressive in a fearful situation, but they can. Precautions must be taken with these individuals. In addition, horses are herd animals, and another strong natural instinct they have is to resist attempts to separate them from others in their group.

Halter and Lead Rope

The horse’s head should always be attended. Control of the head usually enables control of the horse. For most procedures, the person “on the head” stands on the same side as the person performing the procedure and has the greatest responsibility for restraint of the animal and the safety of his or her coworker.

One of the most basic acts of horsemanship is placing a halter and lead rope. It is also the first step in gaining control of a horse’s head, which is the key to controlling the horse.

The horse should he approached from its left side; avoid standing directly in front of the horse (Fig. 2-22). Usually the halter is placed first, then the lead rope is attached to the halter. However, in some horses the lead rope must be placed around the neck first for initial control while the halter is being placed (Fig. 2-22 and Fig. 2-23A). The halter has a small loop (the nose band), which is placed around the nose, and a larger loop (the crown strap), which is placed over and behind the ears (Fig. 2-23B). Buckles or snaps are used to open and close the loops (Fig. 2-23C). As a courtesy to the horse, try not to drag the halter over the eyes and ears. Rather, spread the halter apart to avoid the eyes and lift or unbuckle the halter to avoid the ears. Once the halter is positioned and the buckles/snaps secured, the lead rope is attached (Fig. 2-23D and E).

Once placed, the halter and lead rope can be used to lead the horse. The horse should not be led by grasping the halter. If the horse moves its head up or away, the operator may lose his or her grip, and if the horse bolts or runs, the operator is at for risk of being dragged and seriously hurt. Use the lead rope to lead the horse. Hold the lead away from any buckles or chains, and never coil the lead around the fingers, hand, or arm. If the horse bolts or runs, coiled rope may tighten around body parts, resulting in serious injury and death. Do not let the lead rope drag on the ground because the horse may step on the rope or the handler may become tangled in the rope, resulting in injury (Fig. 2-24).

Sometimes a buddy system approach—taking a second horse along—is helpful if the horse needs to be taken away from the group. Horses are naturally suspicious and respond best to a calm, deliberate approach. Using voice and touch in a calm manner helps to gain their trust. Good horsemen typically maintain vocal and physical contact with the animals they are handling. Approaches to the horse usually are best made at a 45-degree angle to the shoulder rather than from behind. Initial hand contact with the neck or withers makes a good introduction before you move on to other areas of the horse’s body. Horses traditionally are handled primarily from their left side (the “near” side). Unless the horse has not been handled, it most likely will be accustomed to a left-sided approach. Be careful when working in the horse’s visual blind spots. Because of the location of their eyes, horses cannot see directly behind their hindquarters, directly in front of the tip of their nose, directly between the eyes in the forehead, and the area directly above the head and between the ears. If you must work in these areas, avoid unannounced or rapid movements. Avoid working in these areas unless you are protected by a barrier or mechanical device.

Horses may strike with the front legs or kick with the hindlegs in response to pain or fear. Horses may also throw their heads violently, causing injury. Even a normally “good horse” may display these responses when in pain or fear. Assume that all horses are capable of these responses when placed in certain situations.

To lead the horse, walk purposefully in the intended direction and do not look back at the horse. Some horses resent being held tightly by the lead rope, and giving the rope some slack may encourage the horse to follow the handler. Most horses respond best when the handler walks to the side of the head or neck. Avoid walking far in front of the horse, where control of the horse is minimal.

When controlling the head for a procedure, the person on the head should realize that his or her first responsibility is the coworker’s safety. If the horse becomes fractious, the best practice usually is to move the horse’s hindquarters away from the clinician. This is done not by moving the hind end of the horse directly but by moving the head; the hindquarters usually move opposite to head movement. In other words, turning the head to the left usually results in the hindquarters moving to the right, and vice versa.

Lead ropes are made from many materials (e.g., nylon, leather, hemp, cotton) and have two basic designs: with or without a chain. Without a chain, the rope serves only as a lead; the addition of a chain provides possibilities for several degrees of physical restraint. Note that using the chain portion of a lead to restrain foals as described later is not appropriate.

Chain shanks or lead shanks can be purchased with varying lengths of chain and thickness of the chain links. When a simple lead rope does not provide enough control, the chain portion of a chain shank can be placed over the nose or in the mouth for increasing restraint. In order to use the chain in this fashion, the halter must have side rings to slide the chain through and fasten the chain snap. Placing the chain over the nose is a mild form of restraint. The chain is passed (1) through the left ring of the nosepiece and over the nose to attach to the right nosepiece ring (Fig. 2-25A), (2) through the right nosepiece ring and continuing to the right upper ring (Fig. 2-25B), or (3) through the right nosepiece ring and continuing under the halter to attach to the large nosepiece ring between the mandibles (Fig. 2-25C). Care should be taken to cross the chain over the halter nose band so that the nose band can act as a protective interface between the chain and the horse’s skin (Fig. 2-25D). A 1ight quick snap of the lead usually gets the horse’s attention.

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Aug 11, 2016 | Posted by in INTERNAL MEDICINE | Comments Off on Livestock Safety and Handling

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