'You can have all the safety measures in the world - but never trust a cow'

Safety warning: Brendan McLaughlin on his farm outside Manorcunningham in Donegal. Photo: Clive Wasson
Safety warning: Brendan McLaughlin on his farm outside Manorcunningham in Donegal. Photo: Clive Wasson
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Brendan McLaughlin is "as good a farmer as you are going to meet in Ireland". That's what the judges said about him, when he won the REPS Farmer of the Year award in 2000.

For those who can't remember REPS, it was the predecessor to GLAS, and being in REPS meant doing everything right on the farm.

Back in 2000 the judges also said Brendan "is a businessman, and treats his farm as such".

"The paddocks are fenced extremely efficiently and the grass is of a very good structure due to a vigorous re-seeding programme that has seen every paddock freshly sown over the last six years.

Brendan McLaughlin on his farm in Donegal. Photo: Clive Wasson
Brendan McLaughlin on his farm in Donegal. Photo: Clive Wasson

"Silage quality was very good and pit maintenance was excellent. FYM is stored under cover, with a simple lean-to extension at one end of the yard over the dung."

Farming on the shores of Lough Swilly, today Brendan has 50 suckler cows, producing weanlings and keeps an average of 80 ewes, outside Manorcunningham, Donegal.

Today, Brendan still has the same passion for doing everything right. But things don't always go to plan and last year Brendan almost lost his life in a farm accident.

"You always say it would never happen to you, but it can," he says. "I was always very health and safety aware on the farm."

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That day, Brendan was managing a "quiet heifer" that had calved six days previous and the calf got sick.

"I had just dosed the calf. I didn't go near the cow and kept the gate open. I then went into the pen behind her but instead of going in she just stood and looked at me. I instinctively knew what was coming and just made a dive for the feeding byre but my foot got caught.

"Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I was on my back before I knew it and kind of passed out."

He said that when he came through, he contacted his wife Bried to come and help him.

"I had my phone in my pocket, which was lucky, and I got hold of my wife. The pain was severe and I knew there was damage done. I never thought this would happen to me. I'm lucky to be alive.

"I broke the tibia in one place and broke the bottom of my heel. I have pins in my foot and the leg too.

"My message for farmers is never to trust a cow, or any animal, on a farm. You can have all the safety measures in the world - but never trust a cow."

The Donegal IFA Chairman was taken to Letterkenny University Hospital where he underwent surgery.

"I've been farming for 50 years and I've never broken a limb. I'm always very conscious of farm safety but it's unbelievable what happened to me. I calved the heifer myself and thought she was a quiet, yet powerful animal."

Brendan was off his feet for months and only with the help of neighbours was he able to continue farming.

Today, he never goes near livestock without a stick or quad.

"I'm always preaching about farm safety but this incident just goes to show you that you can never trust an animal. If my story helps to save one life on another farm then my current pain and injuries will have been worth it. You can never, ever be too safe."

Indo Farming


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