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With spring calving now underway on many Irish farms, IFA Health and Safety Executive William Shortall has urged farmers to be particularly vigilant to ensure their own safety.

An average, 9% of farm fatalities are caused by cow and heifer attacks each year, with farmers more vulnerable to accidents at this time of year due to tiredness brought on by the heavy workload of spring. This is compounded by the fact that heifers and cows can be unpredictable at calving time and may hit out without warning.

According to IFA Health and Safety Executive William Shortall, “Spring is the busiest time of year on many Irish farms. Farmers work around the clock, often needing to be up several times a night to check on animals. This can lead to severe tiredness, restricting a farmers ability to react quickly.”

The IFA has developed some useful tips for farmers to help keep them safe, including:

• Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a neighbour with a difficult cow or calving
• Know your limitations, you’re not as agile as you were this time last year
• Make sure the calving gate is operating properly
• Make sure the calving jack and ropes are fit for purpose
• Make sure all dogs and children are out of sight before entering the pen
• Make sure the cow is correctly locked into the calving gate
• Ensure calving pens have appropriate lighting
• Remember there is no such thing as a quite cow

With the national sheep flock of 2.5m ewes about to commence lambing, IFA National Sheep Chairman Sean Dennehy has issued a strong warning to all dog owners. He said “Dog owners can be held responsible for any losses involved in dog attacks on sheep, with serious financial and legal consequences. Farmers have a right to protect their sheep flock and can shoot a dog worrying, or about to worry their flock.”

Sean Dennehy said the incidents of dog attacks on sheep increase at this time of year. He said “In recent weeks we have reports of attacks from all over the country. In county Louth alone, we have reports of 42 sheep killed in the last 2 months.”

Sean Dennehy said marauding dogs can inflict horrendous damage on a sheep flock. Statistics collated by IFA indicate that the problem of dog attacks on sheep may be in the order of 300 to 400 attacks per annum, with 3,000 to 4,000 sheep injured and killed. Data on dog attacks gathered by the IFA shows an average of 11 sheep killed or injured per attack.

The IFA Sheep Farmers leader issued a stark warning to all dog owners of their responsibility to keep their pets are under control at all times. “Unfortunately, I am taking calls on a frequent basis from sheep farmers around the country who have suffered attacks. There are far too many dog owners not taking the responsibility that goes with owning a pet. Dog owners have an obligation to have their dog under control at all times”.

Sean Dennehy reminded all dog owners, including farmers, that it is a legal requirement that they microchip and register their dogs. He said under the Animal Health and Welfare Act all dogs must be microchipped and registered on an authorised database since March 31st 2016.

Sean Dennehy said IFA has a detailed Protocol to help farmers who encounter a dog attack on their sheep flock. The IFA protocol involves an easy-to- follow, 10-point Plan of Action covering what a farmer should do following a dog attack or sheep kill.

“Based on the feedback IFA gets from farmers who have had to deal with a dog attack on their flock, one of the biggest problems is the lack of information on what they should do, who they should contact and where can they get help.”

The IFA Protocol deals with these basic questions and also outlines important aspects of the law and how the dog warden service and the Garda can help. It also sets out how to keep a full record of the attack, which can be used as evidence at a later stage.

Sean Dennehy also called on the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed to re-run the TV advertisement campaign on responsible dog ownership from the 1980’s. He said the TV ad was an excellent reminder to warn dog owners about the dangers of letting their pet out at night and the serious damage they could do to a sheep flock. The key message was “Keep your dog under control. Running free he can be a killer.”

IFA’s Health and Safety Executive, William Shortall has urged farmers to take safety precautions when undertaking the spreading of slurry. As of yesterday (13 January) farmers in certain areas of the country are able to commence spreading. The main hazards associated with slurry are toxic slurry gas, slurry tank and lagoon openings and the slurry spreader PTO shaft.

“Spreading slurry is potentially one of the most hazardous activities that a farmer undertakes. The two main risks that present are drowning and gas poisoning. We are urging farmers not to take unnecessary risks and follow simple steps to ensure their own safety and that of their animals,” said William Shortall.

Steps farmers should take include;

• Make sure all children and pets are kept secure and away from the farmyard
• Only agitate on a windy day
• Open all shed doors and shutters to allow airflow through the shed being agitated
• After starting agitating leave the area for 30 min to allow slurry gases to dissipate
• Recover agitating points when not in use

Further information is also available on the Health & Safety Authority website.

Commenting on the figures released today by the Health & Safety Authority, IFA’s Health & Safety Executive William Shortall said 2019 would see the rollout of IFA’s peer-to-peer farm safety learning initiative.

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IFA Deputy President Richard Kennedy has described the unprovoked and violent attack on a farmer in north Dublin as disgraceful and very worrying. He said that the victim could have been seriously injured or killed.

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