The time of year when bulls are turned out after the Artificial Insemination (AI) programme is finished can be very dangerous for farm staff, especially now where on large dairy farms bulls are leased from special bull suppliers just for the mating period. Bulls are a major farm hazard and should be listed as such on the farm safety policy.
ACC statistics in New Zealand tell a sad story as every year bulls kill at least 3 people, and hundreds of near misses are never listed. Many deaths over the years have been women on farms.Humans are not good at evaluating bulls' temperaments. Where a group of experienced farm managers were asked to rank a group of bulls (that they'd never met before) in order of temperament, they all came up with a different order. This just shows that the human-animal relationship is very complex.
Complacency is the real killer as it's the unexpected that catches you out. It's so easy to forget that a tonne of beef on the hoof can go from zero to 30kph in a few seconds, and when it has caught you, a few swipes of its head even without horns can do fatal damage. Then when a bull gets you down you'll feel his full weight on your chest and that's the end of your air supply.
Recent tragedies of handlers being crushed in yards have confirmed this to be common event. Being crushed by a bull moving past you trying to escape from a narrow race causes serious injuries. Other cases are where a bull hits the gate which then swings back on the handler and where the bull lifts the gate off its hinges to fall the handler. There's also the direct frontal charge in a confined place.
It's very important to check that any yards or handling facilities are bull proof before accidents happen. Sadly the small cost of reversing the top hinges on a gate or drilling a hole for a bolt to go through is not done until after a death or permanent injury. Also, don't assume that a head bail that will hold cows will stand the power of a mature bull.
On small blocks the hazards are often greater as the bull has often been hand reared from a calf and is almost a family pet, until the day he decides to play and kill you with his antics.
Special care is needed with strange bulls leased or borrowed from neighbours to mate a few cows as once the job is over the bull can be a problem. You should never handle strange bulls on your own.
The most dangerous time with bulls is when separating them from his harem or a cow that he has just mated. The bull always thinks he needs one more go –even if the cow and the handler thinks he's had enough.
A bull's 'flight or fight' distance is 5-6 metres – but be watchful as he may not have read the textbook. Textbook advice recommends approaching a bull with a stick in each hand and arms extended to increase your apparent size. But again the bull may not believe you. Never trust a bull, and especially one that the owner assures you has always been "as good as gold"!