Inadequate animal handling facilities and poor animal handling methods can lead to accidents on farming operations. Animals are also the source of some infectious diseases that can spread to humans. Handlers must always be on guard when working with or around animals.

For the purposes of this guideline, large animals include:

  • cattle
  • hogs
  • deer
  • sheep
  • horses
  • goats

Animal handling hazards

Farm employers and workers handling large animals can be killed or injured by being:

  • stepped on
  • knocked down
  • kicked
  • bitten
  • pinned against a hard surface
  • exposed to a transmittable disease

Employer responsibilities

Employers obligations include:

  • providing information, instruction and supervision to workers handling large farm animals
  • making sure that workers who get close to animals:
  • making sure workers know how to safely separate themselves from an animal while working in an enclosure occupied by animals

Suggested precautions

To reduce the chances of an animal being unpredictable or aggressive, employers should pay attention to:

  • good housekeeping practices
  • equipment, fencing and gates that are able to restrain animals safely for general maintenance or health care
  • walking or working surfaces that are even and finished or constructed to prevent slipping under wet conditions
  • even and diffused lighting
  • alleys and chutes that are wide enough for animals to pass but not to turn around

The employer should make sure that proper equipment and facilities are available for housing and handling the type of animals in the operation.

Animal characteristics and behaviour

Training and instruction for workers handling large animals should include information about animal behaviour to explain why certain precautions are necessary.


Different animals may have different visual limitations, including:

  • colour blindness
  • poor depth perception
  • sensitivity to contrasts, which may cause them to balk or hesitate at sudden changes in lighting (shadows), colour or texture
  • difficulty in picking out small details
  • sensitivity to distractions or sudden movement because of wide angled vision
  • a natural tendency to move from dimly lit areas to lighter areas
  • blind spots where they cannot see a worker

Workers should be aware of such limitations and how to handle the animal properly.


Loud, abrupt noises can cause distress in livestock. Keep noise and yelling to a minimum to enable the animal to feel secure.

Maternal instincts and territorial behaviours

Livestock with young exhibit a maternal instinct. They are usually more defensive and difficult to handle. Livestock with young should be allowed to remain as close to their offspring as possible.

Most animals have a strong territorial instinct and develop a very distinctive attachment to certain areas such as pastures, buildings, water troughs and worn paths.

Forcible removal from familiar areas can cause animals to react unexpectedly. Similar problems occur when animals are moved away from feed, separated from the herd or approached by an unfamiliar person.

Kicking and biting

Each type of animal kicks differently. Some of the reasons animals kick include:

  • pain, injury or inflammation
  • something in their blind spot
  • sudden noise

Animals may signal their intention to kick. For example, ears that are "laid back," or flattened backward, warn you that a horse is getting ready to kick or bite.

Workers should be aware of and avoid an animal's kicking region.

Approaching animals

When approaching an animal, handlers should announce their presence by voice or by being clearly visible and gently touching the animal on the front or side.

Most animals, like humans, have a sense of "personal space" - a minimum acceptable distance between the animal and any perceived threat. This is the comfort or flight zone. These zones will vary from animal to animal and can be anywhere from five to 25 feet. Entering into the flight zone may cause panic and confusion in the animal.

Handlers can effectively move cattle and other animals by understanding and remaining at the edge of the flight zone.

Point of balance

The animal's wide-angle vision determines the point of balance. It is usually at the shoulder but may move forward when the handler is further away.

It is important to understand and be aware of the point of balance. If the handler stands behind the point of balance, the animal will move forward. The animal will move backward if the handler stands in front of the point of balance.

Blind spot

Animals are unable to see directly behind themselves. This is the blind spot. An animal may kick or run (fight or flight) when they sense something is in their blind spot.