Note: this is not medical advice. Neither the author nor www.newlifeonahomestead.com shall be held liable for any misuse of the advice given in this article. If you get hurt, call 9-1-1 or your doctor.
Homesteading life is full of all kinds of joy, hard work – and accidents. Agriculture accidents can be gruesomely deadly. The majority of livestock related injuries are caused by three things – lack of experience, tiredness, and over confidence.
Most homesteads, especially those with farm machinery and large livestock, are in rural areas. While I firmly believe “out in the country” is the best place to live and would rest my head absolutely no where else, help is not exactly a phone call away.
Even diligent and dedicated EMS personnel and firefighters do not have the capability to break the sound barrier when trying to traverse the 10 to 15 miles it takes, often over dirt or gravel roads, to get to your home and render aid. It is also not uncommon for rural counties to not have a hospital. A first aid kit should be kept in the barn, on the ATV and tractor, and carried with you in a backpack or pouch when working in the woods or out on the trail.
Practicing sounds safety habits, educating yourself about every task you will be undertaking and learning more about animal behavior, will help keep you whole…and not in the back of either a squad or a hearse.
Top 5 Farm Causes of Accidents in the United States
1. Overturned Tractors
Every year about 100 farmers or homesteaders are killed when the tractor they are riding rolls over on them. Even more rural folks are severely injured when involved in a tractor roll over accident. I have witnessed this type of agricultural accident, each one is a scene you will never forget.
During one fatal tractor roll over in recent history, even though the fire department got there as quickly as they could, set up the air bags and jaws of life as quickly as they could, but the man under the tractor was in excruciating pain before the tractor was lifted – and in even worse agony when the tractor was moved…shortly before he passed away in front of his and children.
2. Agricultural Machinery Entanglements
Many farmers and homesteaders have been disfigured, maimed, and even killed after become entangled in a multitude of different types of agricultural machinery. Clothing caught in augers is one of the most common types of farm machinery entanglement accidents
3. Falls from Structures
Homesteaders and farmers spend a lot of time on ladders and roofs conducting repairs and storing hay. In a perfect world, no one would be climbing on a ladder or up on a roof during high winds, rain, or a winter storm, but we all know emergency repairs cannot wait, especially when livestock is involved. Tying off on the roof may help prevent some of the tragic deaths and injuries
Grain silo suffocation deaths are a very slow and painful way to meet your end. After falling into the enclosed space, the grain acts like quick sand and sucks the victim in. Thrashing about in a panic causes them to sink even lower into the silo, ingesting more grain and grain dust Firefighter rescues inside silos are extremely tricky.
The oxygen levels inside the filled enclosed space are very low. Spontaneous combustion inside silos due to the methane gas created by either grain or manure, have also been known to happen. Any movement inside the structure shifts the grain and again, causes the victim to slip deeper inside and closer to death – perhaps taking the firefighter with him or her.
Typically, firefighters carefully lower down several 2X4 boards for the victim to balance themselves on as gently as possible. Next, a rescue basket or rope that can be looped around the victim’s chest, is lowered into the silo, and then the victim is lifted to safety.
5. Large Livestock Injuries
Horses kick, even ones that have loved you all their lives – sometimes you are merely standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and receive a kick intended for another member of the herd. Moving cattle into chutes has lead to numerous crushing injuries and fatalities as well.
Loading large livestock into trailers to transport them to market or to a sale, has caused substantial injuries to farmers, ranchers, and homesteaders, also – typically broken arms or legs caused by a panicked or rushing animal attempting to get into, or away from, a confined space.
Both human and manufacturer error have caused injury and the untimely deaths of farmers and homesteaders. Doing something as simple as checking over equipment carefully, even if you only put it away after a long day of use the night before, could save your life – and limbs!
• The removal of safety shields and other devices designed to prevent injury, from machinery and tools, is one of the leading causes of emergency room visit and squad calls on agricultural land. Sometimes a safety shield simply breaks during extended use, or is no longer present when purchasing second-hand equipment.
Always do research when purchasing any kind of used equipment so you know if safety devices are missing, broken, or defective and have been placed on recall. Do not let homesteading frugality deter you from ordering safety devices for machinery and tools, the potential cost of not doing so might just be too high of a price for your body to pay.
• Proper training on all equipment, for each agricultural chore, and about every animal you will be working near or with, must be undertaken. The failure to admit you don’t know exactly what you are doing could lead to an emergency room visit, or worse.
• If it’s broke, fix it or pitch it! No matter how pressing a chore is, completing it with faulty equipment could likely lead to serious injury, or again…death.
• The purchase of defective new equipment, or machinery that does not have proper and thorough warning labels applied, can and does happen. Ask questions when buying something you have not owned or worked with before and do a little research on your own to see if problems have arisen with product and watch usage videos, if that is the only learning tool available, before turning on the key or pulling the choke.
Iowa is perhaps the largest agricultural state in the Union. Each year, one in every five farms is the sight of a serious agricultural accident – and these folks grew up on tractors and around animals. Farming ranks among the top industries for both fatal and non-fatal work-related injuries in America.
Not all agricultural accidents are reported, at least not to some official database that researchers use to compile data. This is why virtually any report you read about farming accidents and deaths, is likely to share a lower percentage of injuries and tragedies than actually occur.
Top 15 Livestock Handling Injuries and Fatalities
It is cattle and horses that cause the most injuries on homesteads and agricultural land, not big far machinery.
The bulk of livestock handling accidents happen during mundane homesteading activity. Large livestock can weigh as much 3,000 pounds. Regardless of their size, it will hurt when an animal bites, fall on you, tramples you, rams, kicks, gores, pins you between itself and a wall or another animal, bucks you off, drags you, scratches, or otherwise attack your body.
According to World Health Organization estimates, by 2020, livestock handling injuries will be the cause of more disabling injuries and deaths than all communicable diseases combined.
1. Moving animals between pastures
2. Removing animals from stalls for grooming
3. Shoeing horses
4. During artificial insemination
5. When loading onto and off of livestock trailers
6. While assisting with births
7. When attempting to help injured animals
8. Plowing the field
9. During trail rides
10. During shearing
11. During dehorning.
12. While roping animals
13. When deworming or giving vaccinations
14. During ear tagging
15. When floating teeth or providing/assisting with dental care
My favorite rooster, I refer to him lovingly as the Flock Leader, is a gentle and patience soul – at least with me. I had no clue Flock Leader was a vicious thug until friends and family finally told me they wouldn’t walk even near my barn or ride past it on the 4-wheeler, without me…and a large stick.
Now, my rooster can’t weigh more than about eight pounds, but when he climbs up your legs, digging in his spurs, and tries his best to peck about your neck and face, he IS a force to be reckoned with and can easily cause the need for stitches.
Several years ago, on the eve of a 10-hour trip to a hands-on homesteading and survival training “expo” where I was scheduled to speak, my sweet husband Bobby got horse kicked. I saw it about to happen, but he was too far away for me to do anything buy yell, “MOVE!”
Bobby, who is not a horseman, but has an amazing touch with them and all animals, was helping me situate the herd in a rotation pasture before our trip. One horse, a rescue named Dessa, was incredibly barn sour. Her prior owner had been in an awful car accident that prevented her from riding for nearly a year.
During those 12 months, Dessa spent the majority of her time in a stall, only getting out for an occasional short walk. It took weeks to get Dessa to come near us to take a treat and months to get so much as a blanket on her back. For some reason, she took to the person who spent the least amount of time with the horses, Bobby.
Dessa was small, only about 14 hands, and jet black with a cute little white star on her forehead. She was a beauty, but also the typical stubborn mare. The best horse that has even galloped across a field, my Ruby, took to Dessa quickly, which is very odd behavior for her. Ruby is only somewhat affectionately as the “boss witch of the field.” She, even though barely bigger than Dessa, ruled the herd with an iron fist. Dessa became her drill sergeant and “bestie.”
When Dessa became the second in herd command, this angered Harley, who had formerly held that coveted position in the barnyard power structure. Any time those two mares were near each other, hooves were flying and teeth were chomping.
Both before and since, I reminded my husband to respect the size and the power of the horses, and also how the mean girls acts when they get around each other. I must have said, “Never turn your back on a horse,” a thousand times. But he did.
He was so focused on Dessa, she finally consented to being petted for the first time, that he didn’t remain aware of his surroundings. Harley had walked up behind him, eager to get another one of the delicious homemade treats I had baked earlier, that he had ample of in his hands.
When Dessa heard and/or felt Harley was near, she angled her rear end slightly and began kicking, Harley flipped her rear end around in the blink of an eye, and issued multiple return kicks – all while my husband was in the middle of them.
I saw his arm go up to protect his head, but the horses were moving about so much, I temporarily lost sight of him. Those few moments of not knowing how badly he was hurt, were some of the scariest of my life. Somehow, maybe because he knew how terrified I would be if I saw him on the ground as I ran across the field to reach him, Bobby managed to remain on his feet after getting kicked.
Had Dessa been shod, his elbow would have likely been completely shattered instead of “just” chipped, cut, swollen, and badly bruised. He drove all the way to North Carolina the next day with his elbow sitting on cushioned ice packs.
Horses are majestic creatures, but they can hurt you, even when they don’t mean too. Their flight or fight mechanism kicks into high gear when they sense something amiss or different in their surroundings. They see only in black and white and also have difficulty judging distances.
Cattle, even with their 360-degree panoramic style vision, can get spooked and panicked quickly at even the slighted alteration to their surroundings. Cattle stampedes don’t just happen in great old John Wayne movies, they occur on a smaller scale at farms across America with somewhat regularity.
Understanding the animals you work with and anticipating their reaction to any given circumstance, and remaining vigilant while in their presence, will greatly help decrease the likelihood of being seriously injured when on or near them.
Ultimate Farm First Aid Kit
A first aid kit housed in a fishing tackle box or similar container should be attached to any equipment you will be riding on the farm, a larger kit housed in the barn, and a mini kit carried with you while hiking or working on the land. The first aid kit should also include a 2-way radio so you can contact someone at the house or nearby, if injured.
The homesteading first aid kit should be stocked with supplies to perform first aid for injuries like sprains, deep puncture wounds and cuts, fractures, severed limbs, eye trauma, chemical and fuel burns.
• Triangular bandages and pins
• Tea tree oil – natural infection fighter
• Bandages in various sizes
• Dressing pads
• Burn gel and/or burn cream
• Severed limb bag
• Medical tape
• Mylar emergency blanket
• Iodine wipes
• Eye patches
• Insect sting ointment
• Snake bite kit
• Medial glove
• Single use ice packs
• Eye wash
• Antibacterial lotion
• Triple antibiotic cream
• Burn dressings
• Over the counter pain relief medication
• Arm sling
• Finger splint
• Ankle and knee flexible brace
• Quick clotting bandage
Take an online or on-site advanced first aide course, one specifically geared toward agricultural injuries, if possible.
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day, raising chickens, goats, horses, and tons of vegetables. She’s an expert in all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping, and many more.