Farmers’ injuries: often, it’s the cows

by Jim Martyka

Modern farmers operate various kinds of heavy equipment. However, of all the dangers farmers face every day, not many people would believe that a large number of farm injuries are caused by the animals themselves.
According to a recently published survey organized by a former University student, dairy cattle are a major cause of injury to numerous farmers, at least those in parts of the Midwest.
Debora Boyle, an epidemiologist who graduated from the University in 1996 with a degree in environmental health, said the idea for the study came from an earlier study conducted in 1990.
“There was a study that found animal injuries were a main source among farmers,” Boyle said. “Our study focused on cattle-related injuries and the activities in which farmers obtained them.”
Both studies consisted of interviews with randomly-selected farmers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.
Out of more than 13,000 Midwest farmers interviewed for the 1990 study, about 120 had been injured while working with cattle.
For the more recent study, Boyle interviewed 83 farmers from the first study who reported injuries from cattle, as well as 152 who worked with cattle but hadn’t reported injuries.
“The biggest thing we found was that milking was a big source of injury,” Boyle said.
Of the 83 previously injured farmers, 38 of the injuries were caused during milking, 21 during feeding, six during cleaning, two during treatment, and one during footwork, dehorning and calving.
The report said the injuries ranged from minor abrasions and sprains to more serious injuries such as dislocations and crushings.
Boyle said the reason milking was so dangerous was because the process requires the farmer to be physically close to the cow.
“(Milking) calls for a lot of close contact with the cow,” she said. “You can be kicked or pinched against the stall, or a number of other ways.”
The study also showed that people have an increased risk of injury the more hours they work.
Susan Gerberich, an assistant professor in environmental and occupational health at the University, also helped with the survey. She said that for each activity there is a “rate ratio” for injuries caused per number of hours worked.
“The rate ratio is the number of times greater that someone doing that activity risks being injured opposed to someone who isn’t,” she said. For example, the study showed that someone milking a cow between 11 and 20 hours a week has 5.5 times more risk of being injured on the job compared to someone who is not.
Officials in the University’s Animal Extension Services said the average dairy farm has approximately 65 cows. For this type of average farm, the milking process usually takes 15-20 hours per week. However, officials also said that this number varies depending upon facilities and the number of milking units the farm owns.
Gerberich said other important figures found in the survey are for those who work 21 to 30 hours milking, when the rate ratio jumps to 10.9, and 31 to 63 hours, when it jumps to 20.6.
The report appeared in the January-February edition of “Epidemiology,” though the survey was conducted in 1992.
The report states that the survey’s goal was to provide information associating daily cattle activities with injuries. Boyle said she felt the survey accomplished that goal.