Farm safety on your dairy: Training tools
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with several dairy producers about farm safety, and how they train their employees (and even their own family members) on the topic. Specifically, we have been discussing how to safely handle cattle. When we hear the phrase, "farm safety" it's easy to get pulled into a whirlwind of information and stories about PTOs, road accidents, and other equipment-related incidents. However, what about safety around livestock? Our cows themselves usually mean no harm to us, but their natural behavior can put us in danger without us even realizing. When I ask farmers how they learned to handle cattle, they typically say something like, "I do it how Dad did it" or "It's just a part of me, it comes naturally." For myself, I would say something similar. For farmers and farm kids, there is no "Handling 101" class. You learn by doing it-over and over and over again.
But what about someone who hasn't grown up around cows? It's not uncommon to have farm employees with no experience on farms or around cows. What is second nature to us is completely foreign to someone else, and it can be a challenge to teach it. Most farms rely on that "learn by doing" model and have new employees shadow current employees. That is a suitable training method, but it can still be overwhelming for the trainee, especially if they haven’t been around cows before.
Luckily, there are a lot of great resources available for training employees, provided by all sorts of different organizations. One of these organizations is UMASH - the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center. UMASH is housed on the University of Minnesota campus, and one of their projects is creating materials for producers to use. These materials are created with guidance from University professors in Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine, so you can be sure they provide accurate, easy to use information. My favorite resource they have, and one that I have been able to share with several farms, are their stockmanship videos. These videos are designed to train and inform the viewer about how cows move, and how to handle and move them safely.
The farms I showed these videos to said they would use them as a training tool and/or as a "reminder" at team meetings. The videos come in a series of five and are all around 2 to 3 minutes long. They provide information ranging from basic cow instincts to utilizing pressure zones to move cows. They are available in both English and Spanish, so there is no need to worry about language barriers. Using a resource like these videos provides a basic foundation for employees to build on with their experience. Learning by doing is a great method, and providing some background information will make things easier on the person doing the training. Also, using something constant, such as videos, ensures everyone gets the same training. The best part about UMASH resources is that they are all FREE.
Besides the stockmanship videos, UMASH also has posters, factsheets, and videos on other topics, such as accidental needlesticks (another important topic for farms with family members or employees working on them). These materials are available to help farmers, Extension Educators, nutritionists, veterinarians, and anyone else stay safe on farms and around animals. Access these materials here.
When training your employees on any topic, it's important to ask if they have questions or if there's anything you can clarify for them. Also, ask Extension folks or other people you work with if there are training materials available for you to use. While many aspects of farming are second nature for those who grew up around it, remember that not everyone who comes to your farm has had that experience. Proper training and follow-up will create a culture of farm safety, and that can keep you, and everyone on your farm, safe.