Beef Safety Lesson

Beef Safety

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


Beef project members will:

  • Describe how you can be hurt while working with beef animals.
  • Recognize how work habits affect your personal safety and the animals you work with.
  • Demonstrate use of appropriate personal protection equipment and clothing choices for working with beef animals at home and at shows.
  • Understand how to keep yourself and others safe at public shows.
  • Be familiar with how to include members with disabilities in beef project activities.


Lesson 1: Take Good Care of Yourself
Livestock are involved in many youth injury incidents every year. Because of their size compared to the size of the youth who own and work with them, show steers and heifers can be particularly dangerous. This lesson is designed to teach best practices for personal safety when working with beef animals raised or purchased for the purpose of showing at livestock exibitions. It should be used with other beef project materials.

Safe working habits include protecting yourself, your animals, and others. The most common injuries from working with and/or showing steers and heifers are:

  • Slips / Falls
  • Muscle and/or back strain
  • Cuts, scrapes, and bruises from being kicked or stepped on
  • Blisters and burns from lead ropes or electrical appliances such as clippers

Less common injuries from working with and/or showing beef animals:

  • Breathing problems from inhaling dust, animal dander, or chemicals
  • Serious injury – such as broken bones, amputations, puncture wounds

Practice personal safety by using personal protection equipment and developing safe working habits, including:

Closed-toe shoes or boots – sturdy, leather, over-the-ankle fit with non-slip soles

Gloves – Different jobs require different gloves

Leather gloves protect hands from rope burns while leading your show steer or heifer

Latex or rubber gloves protect your hands and forearms while washing and grooming.

Long sleeves and long pants protect your skin from being exposed to:

  • Too much sunlight
  • Dirt and dander from your show steer or heifer

Safety glasses protect your eyes from hair clippings, dirt, and grooming products. When working in bright sunlight, try tinted safety glasses to protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays.

Ear plugs protect your ears when using motorized equipment, such as the clippers or blower and when working in an enclosed area where noises are loud.

Frequent hand washing protects your skin whenever you work with your livestock. Animals can easily and unknowingly spread disease to humans. Frequent contact with the animal’s hide, dander, and feces – especially from washing and grooming tasks – creates an opportunity for disease to pass from your show steer or heifer to you. An example is ringworm in cattle.

Learn first aid and keep a first aid kit in your show box and in the barn or building where you stall your show steer or heifer.

Do I Really Need Protection? – How You Can Be Hurt Working with Show Steers and Heifers

  • The steer or heifer gets frightened and runs, jumps, or kicks.
  • You slip, trip, or fall over things left laying around, on a slick walkway, in a pen, or on an uneven surface (such as in sand in the show ring or uneven surfaces in the cattle lot).
  • You get kicked, stepped on, or tripped while leading, moving, feeding, or grooming your animal.
  • You get a rope burn from the lead rope.
  • Your fingers get pinched in a gate latch; you get poked by a wire, the blades on the clippers, or the teeth on the curry comb.
  • You can strain muscles in your arms, legs, or back by carrying heavy show boxes or buckets of feed. Frequent washing and grooming can cause muscle strains from frequently repeated movements, as in the up and down, back and forth of clipping and combing.

Try This!

Practice safe lifting and carrying to protect your back. Here’s how:

  • Stand close to object to be lifted;
  • Spread your feet wide enough to straddle the object;
  • Squat, bending your knees and hips;
  • Keep your head up and your back straight;
  • Hold in your stomach muscles;
  • Lift using your leg muscles;
  • Keep the load close to your body with a firm grip;
  • Turn your feet, not your back, in the direction you are going


Did You Know?
Ergonomists (scientists who study human body function) say the three worst problems for agriculture are: full body stoop (bending forward and down from the waist, as when picking up feed bags, buckets, or show boxes); lifting/moving heavy objects (greater than 15% of body weight, i.e. feed bags, show boxes, pulling on a show animal’s lead rope); and repetitive handwork (as when you are washing and grooming).

You are more likely to hurt your back when:

  • Lifting more than 15% of your body weight
  • Carrying a load more than 10-15 yards

Use wheels to help carry loads; such as a wheeled dolly, a feed cart, a wheel barrow, or a wheeled utility cart.

Discussion Questions
With your project group members, discuss how you stay safe when working with your show steer or heifer.


  • How did you feel the first time you worked with your show steer or heifer?
  • What do you wear when feeding your show steer or heifer and why?
  • What do you wear when showing your steer or heifer and why?


  • How can you be injured when working with your show steer or heifer?
  • How do you keep yourself and people helping you safe while working with your show steer or heifer?
  • How do you determine how much you can safely carry without hurting your back. Hint: 15 % of  your body weight is the most you should lift.
  • ________  X  0.15  =  ______________
  • Example: 100 lbs.  X  0.15  =  15 pounds


  • Why is personal protection important?
  • 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?


Beef Safety

Lesson 2: Behavior Basics: Getting to Know Your Show Steer or Heifer

To work safely with your show steer or heifer, you should have a basic understanding of animal behavior in general, and the behavior patterns of beef animals in particular.

  • How an animal behaves is determined by genetics and experience. Show steers and heifers that are handled gently and quietly will have smaller flight zones and be easier to handle than animals that have been handled roughly.
  • A steer or heifer that “spooks” easily must be handled differently than one that more easily adapts to changes. Handling differently means you should make changes slowly, watch closely as changes in location are made, and adjust handling methods accordingly.
  • Your show steer or heifer may be calm at home in familiar surroundings, but may become agitated when taken to a different location with new, strange sounds, such as the county fairgrounds.
  • Cattle have wide-angle vision, which means it can see behind itself without turning its head. Cattle will often shy away from shadows or puddles on the ground.
  • Do your best to make the steer’s (or heifer’s) first experience in different surroundings a positive one. For example, when moving an animal to a new pen have a full feed pan waiting.
  • Fear causes animals to run away from whatever scared them. Animals can develop permanent fear memories that can never be erased. This means that if your show steer or heifer has a bad experience when loaded on a trailer for the first time, it may be difficult to load again.
  • Animals are sensitive to high-pitched noises and are easier to handle when noise levels are low.

When you understand how your animal might act in different situations, you can use that understanding to help make livestock shows safer for everyone – exhibitors as well as people who are watching the show. Keeping your show steer or heifer calm is a good start. Other strategies to keep in mind at the show include:

  • Be aware of where others are at the show – the general public (in the stands and walking around) and other exhibitors.
  • Move slowly to and from the show ring with your show steer or heifer. When you become excited or in a hurry, your show steer or heifer will sense the change in your behavior, which might scare it. Remember that fear causes an animal to run from whatever scares it.
  • Get to know your show steer’s/heifer’s behavior patterns and help it adjust to its new surroundings.
  • Do the best you can to keep away from crowded areas while leading your show steer or heifer. Many people do not understand how easy it is to scare a show animal, because they usually look so calm on the halter.
  • Practice, practice, practice show day activities – at home and again when you get to the show. Practice haltering; leading on halter; leading to the show ring; leading in the ring with your show stick; tying and untying at the pen or stall; leading beef to and from its pen or stall; opening and closing gates; washing and grooming chores. Your show steer or heifer will be much more comfortable doing activities it has practiced before and it will be less likely to be scared of the show ring if it’s been in it before the show.

Discussion Questions
With your project group members, discuss how you stay safe when working with your show steer or heifer.


  • How did it act the first time you led it on halter?
  • How did you feel the first time you led it?


  • How does your behavior affect the way your show steer or heifer behaves?
  • How does its environment affect the way your show steer or heifer behaves?


  • Why is it important to practice showing your steer or heifer?
  • What can you do to make sure your show steer or heifer is ready for the show ring?


  • List some ways you can you show others what you’ve learned about animal behavior?


Beef Safety

Lesson 3: Facilities and Equipment
Keeping yourself and your show steer or heifer safe includes making sure buildings, pens/lots, and equipment are well maintained and in proper working order. The facilities you use to house and work your show steer or heifer should be well designed, strong, and safe for you and your animals.

Keep buildings, alleys, and lots neat and tidy. Remember: Slips, trips, and falls cause many injuries when working with livestock. Make sure you have a place to put all your supplies, equipment, and feed and keep all of those items in their proper place. Clean up spills as soon as they happen. Don’t allow manure or feed to accumulate in alleyways or chutes.

Keep mechanical equipment clean and well maintained. Clean and sanitize grooming tools regularly, not only to keep them operating properly, but also to remove any organisms that can spread disease (such as ring worm).

Inspect electrical cords on clippers and blowers often. Replace cords that have exposed wires.

Use only electrical outlets have three-pronged receptacles; if outlets are located outdoors, make sure they are waterproof and have ground fault circuit interrupters to keep you and your show steer or heifer from getting an electric shock.

Make sure there is good lighting for indoor and outdoor areas where you will be working with your show steer or heifer. Lighting should be bright and not create shadowy areas. Your show steer of heifer can get scared when it goes from a brightly lit area to a dark shadowy area.

Keep fences, gates, doors, etc. 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 on them and they open or close unexpectedly. Wire ties or nails poking out of fence boards can cause scrapes or puncture wounds.

Choose equipment that will help make working with your show steer or heifer easier. A grooming chute helps hold your animal while you groom it while allowing you access to all parts of the animal for grooming. A squeeze chute helps hold the show steer or heifer still while you administer medicines.


Discussion Questions


  • What do you do with your buildings and pens to help you stay safe when working with your show steer or heifer?
  • How do you care for your equipment to help you stay safe when using it to work with your show steer or heifer?


  • How can facilities contribute to a safer environment for you? For your show steer or heifer?
  • How does properly maintaining equipment contribute to keeping you safe?


  • Why are good housekeeping and proper maintenance necessary for personal safety?


  • List some of the safety practices you do each day – in your home, at work or school?

Suggested Activities:

  • Set up a practice show at a project meeting to practice show ring safety.
  • Take the Beef Safety Assessment Quiz at
  • Evaluate the safety of your livestock facilities using the Safety Audit Checklist. Make note of potential dangers and work with your parents to correct the dangers.
  • Visit and evaluate project members’ facilities with an eye on safety preparedness.