Farm Dangers

Apart from being really busy this week, everytime I went to post I thought of the Spence family in Co. Down who are now halved in number and lost all the male members of their family.

Slurry is so so dangerous – not just a risk of drowning which unfortunately happens if someone does slip in. When we heard the news last Saturday night, we presumed it was by drowning. However, it seems that a dog fell into the slurry. The manhole must have been open, apparently there was about 4 feet of slurry in it. ?On getting the dog out, one Spence man got into difficulties and his father and brother in turn tried to rescue him. The slurry gases can be so noxious that even one breath can kill but it sounds like he was on the way out, when he started to lose consciousness.

The scary thing is that jumping in to rescue a dog (or anyone else) is such an instinctive thing to do and it could happen at any farm across the country. We all know of the presence of the slurry gases and perhaps they were more potent if they had been agitating and spreading slurry (which probably explains why the manhole was open). ?We recently had to move bulls out of their shed as the slurry was being agitated as the gases could rise into the shed and kill the bulls.

Why agitate slurry? It’s because the heavier solids go to the bottom and the water is at the top. It has to be mixed for ease of spreading and to ensure that there is some good in all of it as fertiliser (and there may be other reasons too!). It is the agitating of it that really causes the gas to form although it is present there anyway.

Farms are such dangerous places. A neighbour recently lost a number of heifers that fell underneath to the slurry tank when some slats broke. ?Many years ago, a friend lost his arm due to a PTO shaft being unprotected. ?Another friend lost her brother at age 19 to a baler. ?A neighbour ended up in hospital after being headbutted in the chest by a suckler heifer after she’d calved. ?There are time pressures to get jobs done, men working in isolation now – working with large machinery, large animals and countless other risks. ?For every accident that does happen, there are probably hundreds more close shaves / near escapes.

Slurry pits are safer nowadays – they tend to be fenced with 6 foot fences or covered with slats and manholes. ?Our open pit (which is now covered with the new shed) was last year surrounded with 8 foot high fence wire and a wild fox somehow got in! There was only a couple of feet of slurry in it and as there was a skin on the surface, he was able to run around. We ended up calling the RSPCA and we were actually away when they came to rescue him.

Many years ago, our slurry pit/dungstead was a large hole built into the side of the hill, with a steep drop down to it from the sheds. One year while testing cattle, our 2 bulls somehow got access to each other in the yard and started fighting, one pushed the other into the slurry pit and followed! ?My dad and the workmen couldn’t do anything about it, and could only get on with testing the rest of the cattle, watching as the bulls did their best to fight each other, getting sucked down into the slurry, moving out to the deepest part and ?only showing the tips of their noses at times. Eventually they stopped fighting and concentrated on getting out, eventually standing exhausted and quiet in the yard.

For the Spence family, who have lost ?fathers, brothers, a grandfather, husbands, sons, my heart go out to them. Life will never be the same again.


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