Dairy farmers are being urged to take extra care after a Derbyshire dairy farmer lost two cows to slurry gas poisoning after he stirred slurry under slats.

The producer, who has not been named, farms near Newhaven and was stirring his slurry tank while his cows were being milked in the dairy nearby.

After hearing a thud he went to investigate and found one of his cows, which was near the tank, had dropped dead.

See also: Farmworker dies as loader plunges into slurry pit

Staying safe with slurry:

  • The levels normally rise as soon as mixing starts with the first 30 minutes being the most dangerous. The level will generally fall as the mixing continues
  • Every time the pump is repositioned to mix another part of the tank, the levels will rise again. Leave for at least 30 minutes again (more time may be needed for larger tanks)
  • Don’t rely on meters they can lead to a false sense of security. They need to be maintained and may need calibrating, they may also warn you too late.
  • Face masks don’t work. Only full breathing apparatus is effective.

For more advice visit the HSE’s website and the NFU’s site.

Later he found a second cow in the cubicle shed, which had been lying close to a slurry channel, had also died.

Grant Hattle, Bakewell NFU group secretary, said gas from the slurry had escaped from the slurry and filtered through the channels, killing the animals instantly.

And while the loss of the cows was upsetting, Mr Hattle said the incident could have been even worse.

“If the gas managed to kill a cow then it must have been in excess of 70ppm – a level which could easily kill a person.

“There is regularly a child on the farm who could have easily been overcome by the gas. It could have been a tragedy.”

Mr Hattle said it was important dairy farmers took care when stirring slurry, as taking unnecessary risks could be lethal.

“Stirring slurry poses significant risks, particularly in the first 30 minutes.

“When you agitate it it’s like taking the cap off a bottle of lemonade: The gas escapes very quickly when the skin is broken.

“It’s vital farmers use common sense, stir in a ventilated space and don’t do the job alone.

“It’s vital farmers use common sense, stir in a ventilated space and don’t do the job alone.”
Grant Hattle, Bakewell NFU group secretary

“Several farmers have told us they have been experiencing headaches after they have been stirring slurry,” he added.

“What they don’t realise is they have probably suffered a mild form of poisoning, so it’s vital they take notice of this and take steps to stay safe.”

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