Safe yards make for happy stock handling

Date 31 August 2016

The best chance for farmers, animals, vets and stock agents to work in safety is to make a farm's cattle yards as robust and hazard-free as possible, says OSPRI health and safety manager James Knapp.

"We hate to admit it, but farming is one of New Zealand's most hazardous occupations, and when cattle and people come into contact in a confined space, the animal will come out better off."

Animal health work brings visitors to your farm, and OSPRI personnel treat safety as a top priority.

A farm's stockyards are a hub of activity, with concentrated animal numbers and sometimes agitated stock.

This is where the closest encounters between animals, farmers, vets, TB testers and stock agents occur, and where a high proportion of farm accidents occur. Animal-health organisation OSPRI doesn't advocate a one-size-fits-all approach, Mr Knapp says.

"Cattle yards don't need to be brand new, just tidy, strong and fit for purpose.

Consider how yard work can be done with a reasonable level of comfort and safety, and bear in mind that a TB test might have to be postponed if the testing environment is unsafe."

Potential problems or cattle yard hazards fall into three broad categories:

  • Slips, trips and falls can be caused by slippery or broken catwalks. Hoses and equipment lying around constitute a trip hazard, as do uncovered pits, sumps or holes. Ensure catwalks and working platforms have non-slip surfaces. Stock control and drenching, dosing and TB testing are some of the jobs that rely on sound footing for safe completion.
  • People can be hit by objects, such as gates coming off their hinges, rails breaking, posts being pushed through a race to be used as a gate. Check for exposed nails - they can catch passing people or animals and cause a nasty flesh wound. Hammer them in or replace them. Replace broken or missing rails. Good yards guide the movement of stock, and a gap where a rail should be can upset smooth movements or trap a limb.
  • People can be hit by animals. Careful when you're doing another task at the same time, especially one that might agitate the animal. There's a danger in leaving animals penned too long or no letting them settle. Inadequate restraints, rotten boards or broken gates can affect your control of animals.

Some really useful guidance on safe cattle handling is published by, and they'll help you update your safety plan to ensure you have identified potential hazards.

There are a few other considerations that might guide your thinking: How about meeting your TB tester or vet at the gate and explaining your safety requirements and major hazards on the property?

Also, ensure there are the appropriate number of hands available to assist with the job you're planning.

Farmers know their yards inside out, but anyone coming on to a farm for the first time needs to know any possible pitfall or hazard.

Communicating with visitors is essential to good health and safety practice. With spring in the air, the best time to complete a safety audit of your farm is now.

Please take the time to complete a "health check" for your yards and rural workplace.

Find out more by reading our free Property Hazards Factsheet at, or zoom in on cattle handling and yard safety at

subscribe to ospri news