Dairy Safety Lesson

Dairy Safety

Lesson 1: Take Good Care of Yourself

4-H Lifeskills: Managing self, solving problems, making decisions


  • Dairy project members will:
  • Describe how you can be injured while working with dairy show animals
  • Recognize how work habits affect your personal safety and the dairy show animals you work with
  • Describe appropriate personal protection equipment and clothing choices for working with dairy show animals at home and at shows
  • Understand how to keep yourself and others safe at public shows

Livestock are involved in many youth injury incidents every year. Because of their size, dairy animals can be particularly dangerous.

It’s important to protect yourself and learn safe working habits, to work safely around animals. This lesson focuses on best practices for personal safety when working with dairy animals raised or purchased for show.

Let’s start with clothing. Sturdy, closed-toe boots or shoes with non-slip soles are your best choice for footwear when working with dairy show animals.

Leather gloves protect your hands from rope burns while practicing with your dairy show animal at home. Latex or rubber gloves are a good choice to protect your hands while washing or grooming your dairy animal.

To protect your skin from sun damage, dirt, and animal dander, long sleeves and long pants are the best choice. When it’s just too hot to wear long sleeves outdoors be sure to use sunscreen and wash exposed skin with soap.

Another healthy choice is safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from hair clippings, dirt, and grooming products. Choose tinted safety glasses for bright sunlight.

And remember to protect your ears. The safest choice is to wear ear plugs whenever you are close to loud noises such as while operating clippers, blowers, or other motorized equipment.

Wash your hands with soap – often - and use hand sanitizer between washings or when soap is not available. Hand contact with the animal’s hide, dander, manure, or urine creates an opportunity for disease to pass from your animal to you. Bacteria and viruses can be spread to humans or from humans to animals.      

Be prepared for cuts, scrapes, and emergencies by learning first aid and keeping a first aid kit in your show box and in the barn or building where you stall your dairy show animal.

You may think that you’re careful, but there are lots of ways to get hurt when working with dairy animals.

For example, you could be kicked, stepped on, or tripped while leading, feeding, or grooming your dairy show animal. It may get frightened and try to run, jump, kick, or butt its head.

You can trip or fall over things left lying around, or when walking on an uneven surface such as the show ring or the wet floor of the wash rack.

Without gloves, your fingers can get pinched in the neck chain on the halter or in a gate latch.

You could be poked by wire, clipper blades, or the teeth on the grooming combs.

And, frequently repeated movements, such as up, down, back and forth while washing, grooming, and clipping can strain your muscles, causing aches and pains.  To prevent repetitive strain injuries, take frequent breaks and try not to do the same thing -such as clipping your show animal - for hours at a time. Break up tasks into shorter jobs.

Lifting and carrying heavy show boxes or bags of feed can strain muscles in your arms, legs, and back.

In fact, Ergonomists, scientists who study human body mechanics, say there are 3 main reasons for back injury in agriculture.  They are:

  • Picking up an object from bending at the waist, instead of using your legs
  • Lifting more than 15% of your body weight.
  • And carrying a heavy load more than 10-15 yards.

So, how should you pick up a heavy object?

  • First, stand close to the object to be lifted.
  • Spread your feet wide enough to straddle the object.
  • Then, squat, bending your knees and hips.
  • Keep your head up and your back straight
  • And hold in those stomach muscles
  • Now lift using your leg muscles
  • Remember to keep the load close to your body with a firm grip
  • And finally, turn your feet, not your back, in the direction you are going.

And just how much is 15% of your body weight?  You can use this simple formula.   

Take your weight times 0.15. 

For example, if you weigh 100 pounds, the most you should lift is 15 pounds.

Do the math for yourself to calculate how many pounds you can safely carry.

Your Weight   X  0.15  = maximum load

What should you do if you have a heavy load to carry more than 10 – 15 yards? 

Ask someone to help you, get a wheeled dolly, a feed cart, wheel barrow, or a wheeled utility cart, or a show box with wheels.

Remember, to avoid injury, you have to take good care of yourself!

What did you learn?

  • How did you feel the first time you worked with your dairy show animal?
  • Based on what you learned in this lesson, what should you wear when working with your dairy show animal and why?
  • How can you be injured working with your dairy show animal?
  • How can you determine how many pounds you can safely carry without hurting your back?
  • What other activities do you participate in that require you to protect yourself and how do you protect yourself?
  • How can you use what you’ve learned in this lesson to help you in other activities?

Now let’s go to the next lesson about the behavior of dairy heifers and cows.


Dairy Safety

Lesson 2:   Behavior Basics: Getting to Know Your Dairy Show Animal

It’s a good idea for everyone who shows dairy animals to have a basic understanding of animal behavior, particularly the behavior patterns of cattle.

Animal behavior is determined by two factors: genetics and experience.  Dairy animals that are treated gently and quietly will have smaller flight zones and be easier to handle than animals that have been treated roughly.

Get to know your project animal. One that “spooks” easily must be handled differently than one that adapts more readily to changes.  Handling differently means you should make changes slowly, watch your dairy show animal closely when you change locations, and adjust handling methods as necessary.

Your dairy show animal may be calm at home in familiar surroundings, but may become agitated when taken to a different location with new and strange sounds, such as the county fairgrounds where there may be carnival game noise, children crying screaming, or balloons popping. Cattle are sensitive to high-pitched noises and are easiest to handle when noise levels are low. Typically noise levels will not be low at a dairy show or fair. 

Understanding how your dairy show animal might act in different situations will help make livestock shows safer for everyone – for exhibitors as well as the people who are watching.

Do your best to make your dairy show animal’s first experience in different surroundings a positive one.  For example, have a feed pan waiting when you move it to a new pen. 

All cattle have wide-angle vision. This means that it can see behind itself without turning its head, so it may react to something that we don’t think it can see. Cattle also tend to shy away from shadows, puddles, and other walking surface changes. Cattle prefer to move from a darker area to a lighter area. Keep this in mind when moving your dairy show animal from outside into a darker arena. It may resist at first. Be patient and allow it to adjust.

Fear causes animals to run away. Animals can develop permanent fear memories that may never be erased.  For example, if your dairy show animal had a bad experience when loaded on a trailer for the first time, it may be difficult to load in the future.

Here are some strategies for understanding animal behavior:

First, learn your dairy show animal’s unique behavior patterns and help it adjust to new surroundings.

Then, be aware of where other people and animals are at the show.  This includes the general public as well as other exhibitors.

Next, be sure to move slowly and deliberately to and from the show ring.  When you’re excited or in a hurry, your animal senses the change in your behavior, and it might try to run away. 

Do the best you can to avoid crowded places when leading your dairy animal to the show ring or holding area. Ideally the path from stalls to the show ring will be free of people, however, that’s not the case at many county fairs. You may have to lead your show animal through crowded areas to get to the show ring. It’s your responsibility to keep your animal under control. Most people don’t understand how easy it is to scare a show animal, because it usually looks so calm and those who are familiar with animals often think they can’t be hurt but we must remember – animals are unpredictable.

One way to help prepare your dairy show animal is to practice show day activities at home and again in the show ring before the show.  Practice will help your dairy show animal be more comfortable less scared of the show ring.

Knowing these behavior basics can help keep you and your beef show animal safe.

What did you learn?

  • How did your dairy show animal act the first time you led it on halter?
  • How did you feel the first time you led it?
  • How do your behavior and the surroundings you’re in affect the way your dairy show animal behaves?
  • What can you do to make sure your dairy show animal is ready for the show ring?
  • List some ways you can share with others what you have learned about animal behavior?

Now let’s learn about safe facilities and equipment for your dairy show animal.


Dairy Safety

Lesson 3:   Facilities and Equipment

Keeping yourself and your dairy show animal safe includes making sure buildings, pens, and equipment are maintained and working properly.  The facilities you use to house and train your dairy show animal should be safe for you and your animals.

Here’s a checklist of suggested best practices you can use:

  • Keep floors, alleys, and pens neat and tidy because slips, trips, and falls cause many injuries when working with livestock. 
  • Have a place for all supplies, equipment, and feed. Keep all of those items in their proper place. 
  • Don’t allow mud, manure or feed to accumulate in alleyways or chutes. Remember to clean up spills as soon as they happen.
  • Keep mechanical equipment clean and well maintained. Clean and sanitize grooming tools regularly.  Not only does this keep them operating properly, but it also removes organisms that can spread disease.
  • Inspect electrical cords on clippers, blowers, and fans regularly. Replace damaged plugs and cords that have exposed wires.
  • Use only electrical outlets that have three-pronged receptacles. If outlets are located outdoors, use only receptacles that are waterproof and have ground fault circuit interrupters to prevent you and your show animal from getting an electric shock.
  • Provide good lighting for indoor and outdoor work areas. Lights should be bright -  but avoid creating shadowy areas because shadows can scare your dairy show animal.
  • Keep fences, gates, and doors repaired.  Replace or repair equipment that doesn’t work.  Gates that are hard to open can cause muscle strains or can pinch you if you have to push hard and they open or close unexpectedly.
  • Remove wire or nails poking out of fence boards that can cause scrapes or puncture wounds.
  • Choose equipment that will help make working with your dairy show animal easier. A working chute helps hold your animal while allowing you enough access for grooming.

Pay attention to the conditions of your facility and equipment to keep yourself and your dairy show animal safe.

What did you learn?

  • What do you do with your buildings and pens to help you stay safe when working with your dairy show animal?
  • How do you care for your equipment to help you stay safe when using it to work with your dairy show animal?
  • Why are good housekeeping and proper maintenance necessary for personal safety?
  • List some of the safety practices you do each day – at home, work, or school?

This is the final lesson on dairy safety. Thank you and be safe!