A farmer was trampled to death by a herd of his own cattle in a “one-off” incident, a fatal accident inquiry was told today.
Tommy MacFarlane, 69, was unable to get out of the way of a cow – described as a “wild beast” – which jumped over five-foot high hurdle gates being used to pen the animals.
The 600-kilo heifer caught its hooves between the bars and brought two heavy metal gates crashing down onto Mr. MacFarlane’s chest, banging his head off the ground in the process.
As the first beast escaped into the farmyard around seven other cows followed it, also running over Mr MacFarlane as he lay on the ground.
The farmer was rushed to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on August 8 2016 where X-rays showed he had rib fractures and a significant laceration on his head.
Three days later he was transferred to a different ward and treated for pneumonia, one of the complicati ons found in the post mortem.
The court heard medical evidence that Mr MacFarlane had also suffered a stroke, and had lung disease, and pre-existing heart problems which could have contributed to his death.
He finally succumbed to his injuries in hospital on June 20 2016, with the formal cause of death put as “complications of head and chest trauma following a farming accident”.
Giving evidence to the inquiry at Livingston Sheriff Court, eyewitness Andrea Taylor, 28, described the tragedy as a “one-off” accident.
Miss Taylor, whose family run an arable farm close to Mr MacFarlane’s Cuthill Farm, near West Calder, West Lothian, said she had never seen a cow leap so high either before or since the accident.
She said she had seen cows rear up and jump over a fence where the wires could give way under their weight , but never over a high metal structure like the movable hurdles she and the deceased had linked together with baling twine to form a pen.
She said Mr MacFarlane, who was “like family” to her, had phoned on the morning of the accident to ask her to help him load cattle onto a truck heading for the slaughterhouse, something they had done together many times before.
She said Mr MacFarlane, stood just outside the makeshift pen while she and the lorry driver herded the cattle onto the ramp leading into the vehicle.
However, she said one of the cattle “just wasn’t going on the lorry” because she was wilder than the rest.
She added: “We knew she was a bit wild. That’s why she was going away. We weren’t wanting to keep her to work with her.
“It was a young cow. She could have been about 24 months. Once she jumped the gate the other cattle decided they were going over it as well.”
She said the galvanised steel gate hit Mr MacFarlane’s chest area pushing him right back onto the ground.
“I wouldn’t say it was an accident waiting to happen. It was just one of those ‘one-off’ things,” she told the inquiry.
“It was just where he was standing. You could say it was the wrong place at the wrong time.
“They all escaped and they ran right over him.
“I don’t know if he got trampled or not.
“It was maybe the weight of the gate and because his head struck the ground – but there was blood coming out of his head and he wasn’t moving.
“I didn’t want to move him in case his back was injured so I just took the gate off him and phoned an ambulance.
“I could hear his breath so I knew he was alive.”
Miss Taylor said Mr MacFarlane’s brothers Sanders and Willie arrived to put the cattle on the truck while she went home to change and drive to hospital to see him.
She said she took charge of Mr MacFarlane’s sheep and visited him regularly in hospital to tell him how the flock was doing.
She said: “He knew what beast had done it because he was pretty sure it was that one because that was the wilder one.
“He knew he’d been knocked down by the beast but he didn’t know what happened.”
She said Mr MacFarlane’s condition deteriorated after a coupe of weeks and he was moved into intensive care.
She was at his side when he passed away and attended his funeral.
Since the accident, she said, the practice of leaning the pen gates against ‘four by four foot’ straw bales had been changed and the cattle hurdles were now tied to a tractor for support.
Also, no-one was allowed to stand close to the temporary fencing so there was no possibility of anyone else being trapped in similar circumstances.
Inquiry judge, Sheriff Douglas Kinloch, will publish his findings in due course.