Minutes from death

CM-MR-1- Minutes From deathby Steven E. Smith

This account from an anonymous New York dairy farmer about his experience of being mauled by a bull within inches of his life is a startling reminder of the dangers of working with bulls and other livestock.

“I awoke to the sounds of beeps and sterile smell of an unfamiliar setting. This was not my home nor anywhere familiar on my farm. I rolled back my lips then swallowed, realizing I had a really sore throat likely caused by the feeding tube which was a part of the three-week long induced comma I later learned I was in.

Last thing I remember was an ambulance ride and lots of pain. That morning, I was bringing the herd in from night pasture. While we never turned our bull in with the herd when they were in the pastures across the highway, that night he had been turned out with the cows in the pasture near the barn. Having been a dairy farmer my whole life, I had plenty of experience with bulls. You learn to watch them and read how they react to you or anyone else on your farm. This particular bull had never been a problem in the total of four years we had him. He never showed any aggression and certainly had never had a confrontation with myself or any other human. Actually, that morning was the first time I had to go get him from pasture. Maybe the mild mannered, passive mentality was part of his modus operandi.

First he pawed at the ground. Since the bull had never demonstrated this gesture to me, I wasn’t alarmed. But then he turned and displayed his massive frame in a broadside portray of strength and power. I could relate to that. From my youth and every day since then, my physique had been earned by doing all the physical tasks of caring for a herd of cows, building pasture fence, throwing hay bales and the hundreds of other farm tasks. On a dare, I could lift the large anvil in the shop over my head. I was at the prime of my strength. But that would change in minutes.

The bull pawed and turned and made the snap decision to charge at me. In the open pasture hundreds of yards from the barn, the farmstead and its’ safety now seemed like miles away. When the bull reached me I made the reactionary decision to distract him by taking a jab at his eyes. He hit me with his massive head and knocked me with ease to the ground. I again took aim at his eyes. This time though I made the attempt to limit his line of sight by covering his eyes. When this had no effect, I grasped his eyeballs with my hands. As he thrashed me around like I had no mass at all, I then felt him pull back, dragging me along the ground as I had a hold of his eyes.

Thinking fast, I made it my goal to reach a truck box that had been left in the pasture in years past. This would be my escape plan’s destination if I could get there. I knew I had to get and stay on my feet or the bull would surely grind me into the ground. I fortunately got my footing in the midst of the lunging and swinging of the bulls head. When I took off towards the truck box, the bull gave chase and knocked me down just as I reached the metal framing which I hope to find refuge in. Now the pain would begin.

Instead of driving me into the ground, the bull began to crush my upper body into the metal box. Repeated blows yielded the breaking of all my ribs, the puncturing of a lung and damage that resulted in the collapsing of the other, tearing of the muscles from one of my shoulders and significant joint damage. It was my brother’s quick reaction to intervene with one of our large 4X4 loader tractors that brought an end to the attack.

Years later now, I am grateful to be alive to enjoy my family and continue to farm. The road to recovery was long and I am reminded frequently each day what the attack did to my body. There are muscles in my one arm that were never reattached. I have limited range of motion and of course the vast array of aches and pains. I certainly never recovered to the physical shape I was in.

A bull can never be trusted, ever. That is because they all turn, someday. And from what I have learned, a bull won’t stop attacking until you aren’t moving anymore. Strangely, I was one of three farmers attacked by livestock within the region that week. All three of us were brought to the same hospital. One man didn’t survive and he was attacked by a heifer. Years later, I spoke with the other man that had lived. He mentioned that at one point during his bull attack, when he stopped moving, the bull actually stopped mauling him. But when the man began to crawl on his hands and knees, the bull returned. This time when the bull was finished the farmer couldn’t move.”

New York Center for Agricultural Medicine & Health (NYCAMH) conducted a 10 county study including the counties of Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Erie, Jefferson, Oneida, Otsego, St. Lawrence, Stueben and Washington from 2007 to 2011. From that research, NYCAMH’s Jr. Research Investigator Erika E. Scott, MS indicated that there were 27 reported injuries (both through ambulance reports and community surveillance) related to bull or cow/heifer injuries. Scott noted that this this data is only from 10 counties, and does not represent all of New York. Furthermore, Scott reported that in this data set there were not just bulls but cows and heifers incidences as well. “We found 14 attacks involved a bull and 13 involved a cow or heifer. The farm personnel injured were six women, 20 men and one case which did not specify gender. The NYCAMH survey found 21 of the 27 reported were struck by/against type incidents, and 4 were caught between (e.g. caught between animal and gate/fence, etc). Two of the incidences were categorized as unknown injury event type.

From the first-hand experience above and the summary of the cross section of New York incidences from 2007 to 2011, it is clear that the handling of bulls as well as heifers and cows merits renewed attention and caution. Bulls who turn demonstrate their superiority over their human handling which cows especially at calving act to protect their young. As pasture season begins be sure to stress this dangerous aspect of livestock farming with everyone at your operation.

For more information from the NYCAMH organization contact them at phone: 800-343-7527 on the web at www.nycamh.com as well as on Facebook.

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