Bull attack raises safety concerns


Bull as it approached vehicles on Houses Corner Road in Sparta after the bull wandered away from MacDermott's Farm on Friday.

Sparta - A bull from a local farm was put down by Township police on Friday afternoon, after the bull attacked its owner as she opened the gate to return her bull to its pen after it had wandered to Houses Corner Road in Sparta. Knocked to the ground and suffering upper body and head lacerations, the owner, Wendy McDermott, shouted to police to shoot the bull dead, to stop the bull from killing her, according to Sparta Police. The incident has brought up questions about safety in animal handling and how the call to put down an animal is made.
The incident began on Friday afternoon when the bull wandered off, resulting in multiple calls from motorists reporting that a cow was approaching cars on Houses Corner Road.
One motorist, a Sparta resident, later said that during that time she tried to use her vehicle to prevent other vehicles from any possible inadvertent collisions with what appeared to her to be a docile, friendly animal on the roadway. She stated she'd even seen someone in another car reach out and pet what they thought was a cow.
The owner of McDermott's farm, Wendy McDermott, was contacted and she told police it was not a cow, but a bull, police said.
Sparta Police say that McDermott informed police that it was a bull, not a cow, and that she could attempt to use food to lure the bull to the gravel road that leads to the farm.
The bull, in fact, followed McDermott's vehicle toward the farm, as Sparta Police Sgt. Arlene Lippencart drove her patrol vehicle behind them, observing that several times the bull bumped McDermott's vehicle and attempted to mount it. McDermott managed to successfully lure the bull back to the farm. McDermott exited her vehicle, opened the gate, and the bull turned and attacked McDermott, knocking her to the ground.
Sgt. Lippencart then distracted the bull and managed to get McDermott into the patrol vehicle. Additional police arrived as well as EMS who treated McDermott, but the bull charged Sgt. Adam Carberry's car, and the bull was then shot dead by Carberry and Sparta Police Officer Timothy Lynott, police said.
McDermott, who co-owns the farm with her husband, was thereafter treated at Newton Medical Center, and she later told police she'd received multiple stitches to her head and upper body bruising. Police say McDermott also told her that her husband sustained previous but less serious injuries by the bull.
According to Sara Malone, who holds a Phd in Veterinary Science from the University of Melbourne and who teaches Animal Behavior at Rutgers University, the fact that there was a previous attack by this bull would justify putting the animal down. Especially so if it is a Jersey bull, she said, which could explain the aggression and effort to mount cars. Jersey calves are most often raised without their mothers, and that means less opportunity to observe other animal behavior. A bottle fed animal, doesn't know how to properly behave, and that could be one reason the bull became aggressive. Jersey bulls are also known to be more aggressive than the average bull. Bulls don't go into heat, obviously, but they do behave differently in spring time due to hormones, unlike steer, since steer have been castrated, she said.
While public comment online seems to run the gamut, including suggestions of contacting “proper handlers,” Dr. Malone says that a farmer who handles a bull every day, is indeed an expert on bulls, and certainly "the" expert on that bull in particular. So an owner calling for the bull to be shot - especially in the middle of an attack - would definitely be a sound call, Dr. Malone said. She also notes that in states like Texas, local animal control may have experts on handling large livestock, but this may not be so in New Jersey. The expert in this case would definitely be the farmer, she said, since she handles and observes him every day. Malone also confirmed that luring a bull with food is a logical method of moving a bull.
“In regards to tranquilizing the animal- an aggressive bull has no place on a farm,” she said. “You don't want to use it for breeding because it is a risk to handle it and could pass on its aggressive nature to any bull calves. You could castrate the bull and try to keep it, but if the whole purpose of keeping the animal was as a breeding animal now it has lost its value to the farmer and its aggressive nature may stay because it has already learned these behaviors.”
Could an owner pen a bull all alone somewhere to minimize the chances it will hurt someone?
“Probably. However, cattle are social by nature and now you are impacting its welfare,” she said. Malone emphasized that quality of life for an animal is a factor and “keeping a social animal all alone is not a good solution for that animal.”
There are facilities that keep dairy breed bulls to collect from them for artificial insemination of cows. This reduces the number of small dairy farms that need to keep a bull.
Even breeding facilities that collect bulls for artificial insemination have extreme safety measures in place, such as open panels that a handler can escape through while working with the animals. Working with bulls is inherently dangerous and bull attacks account for a large percentage of farm fatalities. Even these facilities would not want to take additiional risks with a bull that is already known to be aggressive. The rule of thumb among experts when it comes to handling bulls is that once it has attacked, it should be euthanized, she said.
From my standpoint, the bull is going to be put down, either way, and the farmer and police made a good call, Dr. Malone said.
“The question is, does the farmer get seriously injured first, or do they put him down now? This is not a Chihuahua that bites you. An attack by a bull is a life or death situation.”