Willie Carruth is reminding farmers to stay alert and focused when working with cattle, after he suffered a cow attack in April this year.

The farmer – with 45 years of experience working with cattle – was battered by a cow shortly after calving, leaving the 60-year-old with broken ribs, damaged kidneys and liver. Months after the incident, Mr Carruth is still unable to sleep in a bed and is unable to fully return to work on Lawmarnock farm, Kilbarchan, in Renfrewshire.

Together with his wife Edwina and son Chris, Mr Carruth runs around 190 commercial suckler cattle alongside a horse livery business for 50 animals. Having Mr Carruth out of action has put extra pressure on the 300-acre family farm business, but he counts himself lucky as the results could have been much worse.

The incident happened this year on April 12, two weeks into calving 70 cows. “We were in full swing calving at the time,” Mr Carruth recalled. “It was about 11 o’clock at night and I was watching two cows calve on the cameras. We winter the cows in a cubicle shed and take them through to a bedded court when they come close to giving birth. The court is an old inside silage pit with concrete walls on three side. Typically, we have around five cows in the shed who have either recently calved or are just coming on.

“From the calving cameras I could see a couple cows calving so I went to check how they was getting on. By the time I arrived in the shed at 11.30 the younger cow had calved fine and was licking the calf calmly. She was quiet and focused on her calf, no flicking of the head or fawning at the ground. She looked content and quiet, so I didn’t move her and went back up the road to the house.

“Then back in the kitchen after 15 minutes, I noticed the second older cow wasn’t progressing as much as I’d hoped so I slung the calving ropes over my shoulder and went to attend. Once in the shed I spotted the older cow still to calve at the far end from the gate and walk up past the newly calved cow and calf. As I was getting close to the older cow it was then that the younger calved cow nailed me in the back.

“At the time it felt it was all over in two seconds and from memory I thought I was only hit twice by the cow. But when my wife and son watched the footage on the calving cameras the next day they saw the full extent of the attack. My wife tells me I was thrown into the air three times then the cow pinned me against the wall, ramming into me with her head five times. My back was against the wall of the old silage pit and I had nowhere to go. I was stuck against the solid wall.

“I remember it was a bit like taking two big handfuls of bubble wrap and making it go pop, pop, pop – that was the feeling of my ribs being cracked. Then the strangest thing happened, the older cow appeared and seemed to protect me from the attacker. She put her body between me and the new mother who finally gave up her assault.

“So there I was lying slumped against the concrete wall and barely able to move. During the strike she had smashed me in the face so my glasses were gone. I reached for my phone and started randomly trying to make a call for help. Luckily, despite not being able to read the screen, I hit redial and got through to my cousin Dave Carruth who farms next door. He contacted my son and both of them were here in moments. I was lucky, as I don’t usually take my phone out as the signal is bad in the shed.

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“When they arrived they took the quad bike into the shed to protect me from the cow. Once I was safe, they turned their attention to the older cow and calved her, before taking me out of the shed on the quad bike for the ambulance. It arrived minutes after we phoned and I couldn’t fault the emergency service, the NHS staff were fantastic. In total it was probably around 45 minutes between the cow hitting me and the ambulance arriving.

“In the ambulance the staff started to suspect I could have internal bleeding so halfway to the hospital the blue lights came on and I was rushed to intensive care. A dozen people were around me with x-ray machines appearing out of nowhere.

"I was then in the high dependency ward for more than a week with 18 of my 24 ribs broken, damaged liver and damaged kidneys. Plus, there was a lot of trauma to other parts of my body which has not healed yet, I still have issues with my collar bone and neck to this day.

“After a week in hospital, I think I managed to moan to the nurses enough to be allowed back home to the farm. I remember getting to the house for 6pm at night then wanting to return to the hospital by 10pm, the pain was that bad. I was a rugby player in the younger days and had broken ribs and bones before but never felt pain like this before.”

Three-and-a-half months after the incident, the 6ft 5" former rugby player has had time to reflect on the incident. “She was a second calver, and we had never had any issues with her in the past. We keep quiet cows as we have people coming and going to the farm for the horses all the time so they are used to folk.

“On the night I was tired and stressed and perhaps not paying as much attention as usual, but calving is a stressful and tiring time on the farm. There was a ring feeder in the shed as well as a cattle crush which we can use for safety if we think cows are agitated, but I was struck from behind with nowhere to go.

“I guess it is a reminder we all need to be so careful on the farm, no matter how much experience we think we have, it can happen to anyone. My father died when I was 16 and I have been working with cows ever since but if you take your eye off the ball for a moment you can get hurt.

"My neighbour that very weekend was also attacked by a cow and between us we have over 100 years of experience calving cows. I also can't stress enough how important it is to have a phone or a way to contact someone in an emergency. If I hadn’t had a phone, it would likely been a very different story.”