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Workshop teaches emergency responders to corral livestock
Indiana Correspondent

ROCHESTER, Ind. — These scenarios happen often: A cow bolts from the sale barn. A steer leaves the 4-H fair and heads down the highway. Or, even worse, a truck full of animals overturns, leaving already stressed animals injured or disoriented.

The alarm is sounded and would-be rescuers dash in, arms waving, voices shouting, while police cars, with lights flashing and sirens screaming, rush to the scene. By now the cattle not only are alarmed, they’re likely to fight or take flight.

Shouting, running, lights and sirens are the worst ways to handle such a situation. Proper procedures – call it animal psychology – are needed to prevent harm to the animals and the people trying to handle them.

That’s the reason Mark Kepler, Purdue University extension educator in Fulton County, designed a program to provide law enforcement personnel a basic understanding of farm animal behavior. It is his hope the Nov. 2 event at the Rochester Sale Barn will serve as a prototype for future presentations.

“Never forget that grazing animals are a prey species,” Dr. Candace Croney told police officers. “They are inherently fearful and prone to trying to escape from danger.”

Croney, an animal behavior and well-being specialist in the Department of Animal Science at Purdue, defined grazing animals as horses, cattle, hogs, goats and sheep. Their lateral eye placement gives them wide-angle vision and the ability to scan all around themselves for predators. And when they are frightened, they react by kicking (cattle), biting (horses) and charging head-on (sheep).

Since cattle and horses cannot see directly behind them, they will kick anyone who walks into that blind spot. “Approach them from an angle or alert them if you are directly behind them,” she said.

General principles

Cattle have wide-angle vision and depth perception only when standing still with their heads down. This requires them to stop, put their heads down and balk when there are shadows on the ground.
They are sensitive to contrasts of light and dark around loading chutes, scales and work areas. A shadow falling across a scale or loading chute can disrupt movement. People working around large animals should speak softly and in low tones, since high-pitched noises cause alarm.

Large animals often become agitated and fearful when separated from the herd; their instinct is to stay with the group. Novelty is a potent stressor and many accidents occur when they are spooked by something new, such as reflections, noise, flapping objects and new people.

Croney said an Oklahoma State University study revealed that 50 percent of accidents are caused by human error.

If possible, animals should be handled in their own company to keep them calm. Prods should be used only if necessary and only on the ones stopped at the head of a line. Handlers should pay attention to sights, smells and sounds that might distract the animal and should approach the animals slowly and at an angle.
When animals move in the right direction, back off. Have a contained destination for them.

If they must go through a chute or into a trailer, have those areas lighted so they can see where they are going and size it up for potential threat.

Animals have a flight zone – their safety area – that varies in size depending on the animal’s degree of tameness. Handlers should work on the edge of the flight zone. If the handler penetrates the flight zone too deeply or quickly, the animals will either turn back and run past him or her, or break and run away.

Cattle will stop moving when the handler retreats from the flight zone. Once animals are moving in the desired direction, handlers should back off.

Emergency handling

There has been an accident, and animals are milling around. Some are hurt; all are terrified. A responder’s first action should be to assess the number of animals involved, the environment, the animals’ body language, the responder’s own body language and behavior and escape path.

The No. 1 Rule is: Don’t try to corral the animals alone. Get help. Limit the use of sirens, horns and loud noises.

Have a plan: know who is in charge, where the animals will be contained, what tools are available to help and who is responsible for animals once the situation is handled.

Be very careful in handling bulls, especially dairy bulls. The fewer people involved, the better – but never only one. “The fastest way to move cattle is slowly,” Croney advised.

Reiterating some of Croney’s remarks, Dr. Ron Lemenager, a Purdue beef specialist, advised police officers to remove their badges when handling livestock. “They’re shiny and that will spook cattle,” he said.

Lemenager joined Kepler in one of the sale barn’s holding pens to demonstrate animal handling procedures before moving back into the ring to discuss when, how and where it might be necessary to use deadly force. “The steer has been running for four hours,” he said. “Everyone is getting impatient. Someone says, ‘Shoot him and we’ll eat him.’ But no, they won’t. If they tried, they would find the meat unfit to eat. If the animal is allowed to calm down, the meat eventually will be okay.

“Sometimes, however, an animal must be put down. There are three ways to do this: by gunshot, which is dangerous, by a captive volt or an IV injection.”

This presents new questions, he said. Who’s in charge? Who can do it right? Are there sharpshooters on location? Are there second and third shooters on location? From where will the shooter fire? Who’s in charge of crowd control? Who will ascertain that the animal is dead?

“Dogs can throw a real monkey wrench into things,” Lemenager said. “I’ve come closer to shooting them than the injured animal or the one on the run.”

Kepler asked sale barn owner Vince Hoffman how much would be lost if a 1,200-pound steer was put down. The answer was $1,500-$1,800. Hoffman explained a sale barn operator never owns an animal, but is responsible for it. “Lights and chasing get you nowhere,” he said.

Throughout the discussion, Greg Slipher, livestock development specialist for Indiana Farm Bureau, interjected comments that backed Lemenager and Croney. Indiana State Police Sgt. Tony Slocum, filling in for Capt. Brad Weaver (on temporary duty on the East Coast following Hurricane Sandy), said until he moved to the Peru city post he’d had little experience with animal rules. He advised officers to shut down the road if there were many animals running loose and to contact the owner.

“Then, follow the advice you’ve just heard,” he added.