“Don’t 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.”
These are the words of Robert Lewis, an experienced farmer who is slowly building up his strength almost 12 months after a cow whose new-born calf he was feeding attacked him.
Rob, who farms around 260 acres near Rhayader, suffered major injuries including five fractures to his T12 vertebrae. His wife Audrey watched the terrifying incident unfold in a matter of seconds, as the protective cow barged Rob from behind, before its frenzied attack of stamping, kicking and head-butting him as he lay on the floor.
Rob’s life was undoubtedly saved by the quick-thinking and sheer strength of one of his sons, Rhys, who rushed to the scene having heard his mum screaming over the roars of the angry cow.
“Rhys managed to physically barge the cow sideways, so that it momentarily stopped attacking me and in the few seconds following, he was able to drag me to safety,” Rob recalls.
The nightmare began on the morning of 30 April 2021, when Rob spotted a calf born just a couple of hours earlier was on its feet but not suckling. He ascertained that the cow, a reliably calm animal, had blood in her colostrum he decided to prioritise the calf’s wellbeing. Armed with a jug of colostrum and a tubing kit, he and Audrey went back to the calving pen to assist.
“The cow was still completely calm, so I focused on getting the tube down the calf’s throat, holding it firmly between my legs with my back to the cow, while Audrey held the jug of colostrum,” said Rob.
“Unfortunately, the new-born made a choking noise and the sound of spluttering panicked the protective cow, which immediately barged into the back of me, sending me sprawling.
Rob rolled into a ball on the floor to protect himself, but the angry cow was undeterred. Audrey had to climb over a sheep feeder to call the 999.
A paramedic from the St. John Ambulance service was soon on the scene and administered first aid to Rob who remembers being in agony. He was suffering from shock but, although doubled over in pain, managed to stumble to his feet.
Rob says what followed will stay with him forever. A Wales Air Ambulance helicopter arrived, he was strapped onto a body-board and flown to a hospital in Cardiff. An MRI scan revealed five fractures to the vertebrae, compression injuries and bruising to his body, arms and legs.
Two days later, Rob was allowed home, but 48 hours later suffered a relapse and could not move. This time it took a team of local part-time firemen, “many of them mates”, to lift him off the bed. They strapped him on to a body board and carried him down the narrow farmhouse stairs, He was then transported by ambulance back to Cardiff.
More scans followed and Rob, who recently turned 60, was told he needed a substantial back brace for many months, rest, regular physiotherapy and painkillers.
“I’m trying to reduce my dependency on the pain relief, but nothing can really conquer the ongoing fatigue and the pain levels and spasms that still stop me getting more than three or four hours sleep a night,” he said.
Rob adds that had it not been for the support of family and friends, the brilliant response of the emergency services and the Cardiff medical team who still monitor his progress regularly, he would not be where he is now, slowly trying to get back to normality. But could he have done anything differently that day?
“Like all farmers, I know the risks of working with large animals, but that day I took the newly calved cow’s behaviour for granted. I went in to deal with a situation without considering what steps I should have taken to protect both myself and Audrey.
“That momentary lapse of judgement, rushing in without using a barrier to separate cow and calf, cost me heavily and will never happen again!
“Never work with unrestrained cattle or stock without utilising suitable handling facilities. Never underestimate the risk from cattle, even with good precautions in place and always consider handling equipment and escape routes.”
A video of Rob’s story can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4LT76nNsDY.
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