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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘I managed to push the cow back a bit and pulled him out from the calving pen’

“Do not ever take a newly calved cow’s behaviour for granted. Even the most docile animals can turn in seconds, as I learned to my cost,” cautions farmer, Rob Lewis, who was left with a fractured spine after being attacked by a freshly calved cow on his family farm.

April 30th, 2021, which fell between peak lambing and calving season, began as what he described as a normal day on his family farm with routine work.

While tending to their flock and herd, he noticed that a newly born calf – which was born earlier that morning – was “distressed somewhat as he had not suckled, and the cow had a touch of mastitis, so I milked her out, and the decision was to tube artificial colostrum into the calf”.

“The mother was getting tetchy, and as it was, we were in the same pen together,” he explained in a video released by NFU Cymru.

“At the end of it, she hit me, threw me from the calf and then carried on hitting me incessantly while I was on the ground. She caved her legs and headbutted me in my back.”

Ryhs, his son, who was feeding sheep at the time, heard “all the screaming and shouting and a cow bawling”. He said he “heard this gate bang as mum got over, and I looked out to see what was going on”.

“That is when I saw the cow turn and dad go down. She was mauling him and was on top of him.”

“I just ran up through the shed, over the gate and feeder and opened the gate. I managed to push the cow back a bit and pulled him out from the calving pen.”

Cow attack

The first responders in Rhayader were on-farm in a matter of minutes. The helicopter circled over the building, and the Welsh Air Ambulance “whisked” Rob away to the Cardiff University of Wales Hospital, where he was informed that he had five fractures to his T12 vertebrae.

“I was on four different lots of painkillers and was harnessed up in a body brace. I have been in pain, more or less, ever since. Sleeping is a battle,” he explained.

“I did not think I was putting myself in danger that morning, but obviously, I did put myself in a place of danger.”

His wife, Audrey, said that the accident has impacted all the family, mentally and physically.

“When he came home from hospital, it was the aftercare having to, every two hours, move him in bed, from back to side, side to back, sleepless nights and having to cover out on the farm in the day. It would have taken a few extra minutes to take the calf out of the pen to tube it.”

His son added that we read and see about farm accidents in the farming press, but until it happens to yourself, in your family situation, then it “dawns on you to be more aware of safety around these animals”.

Farm accident 

Safety instructor of close to forty years and farmer, Brian Rees, reminded farmers, during the most recent episode of the HSE’s new agricultural podcast, that farmers can make “small steps” to protect themselves, their families, workers and livelihoods.

He explained: “There are a variety of reasons. Farmers are rushing around. When a farmer needs something or needs to do something, they only have one thing on their mind, and that is to get that job done.”

“Therefore, they do not necessarily think about what is happening around them. A very good friend of mine, two years to now, was in calving season, and one morning, he went into his shed, where a cow had calved.”

“They were lambing as well, so they were busy. He went back to that cow one hour later, and the calf looked a little bit hollow, so he thought it had not sucked.”

“He got his wife, and they got a jug and a stomach tube as the calf had not sucked. They went into the cow, and she was fine; he actually milked the cow. He turned his back on the cow and caught hold of the calf.”

“He opened the calf’s mouth, and he made a little sound. The cow just went berserk. His wife was facing the cow, so she could see what happened, and she tried to throw the jug of colostrum that was she holding at the cow, and she managed to escape.”


“But, the cow really mangled her husband. His son appeared from somewhere close by, and he literally manhandled his cow off him; it was amazing. He is still alive and is lucky to be alive.”

“He used to be 6ft 2’, but is now 6 ft and ½ inches because it smashed one complete vertebrate out of his back. They have pinned him all back together, and he is okay, but picture him on a cold morning, where he can hardly move.”

“Although the farmer’s system was in place really, with good calving pens, the secret is you never get between the calf and the cow whatever you are doing. You always have to be behind the barrier.”

“All that was on his mind at that time was getting colostrum into that calf, and everything else went out the window. I think that this happens with all farm accidents,” he concluded.

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