“I saw the coffin,” said dairy farmer Liam O’Keeffe, from Ballydesmond, in north Cork, as he recounted his brush with death after being cornered by a bull in June 2007.

He believes his ability to think on his feet and his good level of fitness, saved him.

“I was going at silage and had a guy who had very little English, working with me on the farm. I told him a couple of times that the paddock was ready and to let out the cow. I noticed that he didn’t seem to understand what I was saying, so I said I would do it myself.

“He milked the cows; and I noticed he hadn’t let the bull in. The bull had a long chain and I caught it with a dung fork and put it through the chain to catch him.

“When I had him caught, I said I’d put a different bull in with the cows. Before I got a chance to do that, the bull had me up against the wall and was attacking me.

He was a tonne weight and I fell onto the ground. He was trying to stand on me.

O’Keeffe responded by catching the bull by the chain and hitting him as hard as he could.

“He backed off a small bit and was a bit stunned. I made a run for it across the yard, holding the chain with one hand, and continuing to belt him,” he said.

Good neighbours

After reaching a shed, he threw himself onto the loose bales of straw on the floor and rang neighbours, who run a shop.

They came running; along with their customers; to help and call the emergency services. A doctor who arrived on the scene, was worried about the extent of injuries – including to his hands.

O’Keeffe was rushed to Cork University Hospital, where he underwent an eight-hour surgery, and spent approximately nine weeks.

He had broken his pelvis in two places; damaged his collar bone; and sustained serious bowel injuries. His legs were also badly bruised.

I ended up with cavity and internal wounds. I had about 12 surgeries which included reconstruction of the bowel. I couldn’t sit down for a long time. It was just as well I stayed farming.

Unable to work for approximately 12 weeks after the accident, he was forced to bring in relief workers and pay contractors.

He estimated that he lost €27,000 in the year of the accident. “My milk production went to half; while I was in hospital because of poor grassland management. My silage didn’t get cut until the last days of July and the quality the following year was poor. However, I’m glad I kept going.”

While he was left counting the cost of the bull attack, and still suffers as a result of his injuries, he remained upbeat and kept farming. “I never had a dark day. I was so glad I wasn’t killed. I was so lucky,” he said.

I value life a lot more than I did and make the most of it. I would always have been pretty positive but now I definitely value things I wouldn’t have appreciated.

“Something that might have been the end of the world before; doesn’t matter now. Life is precious and you can’t turn back the clock.

“I changed my farming system as a result of the accident with the bull. I used to keep all cattle; now, I just keep replacements. I also retrained as an inseminator and work for Munster AI, doing pregnancy scanning.”

Labour pressure

Looking back, he feels long hours contributed to the accident.

“I was working 16 hours a day, and had worked three months solid without any time off. Stress, fatigue and loss of concentration cause a lot of accidents.

“Very few farmers are careless; but many work too hard and there can be issues like department inspections. I appreciate the chance to work the same as I had been doing before,” he said.

“I saw the coffin that day. I’m a fairly quick thinker; I’m fairly fit and both stood to me. I’m dealing with bulls all my life and I didn’t think anything would happen to me.”

O’Keeffe was one of the speakers in a panel discussion at the recent farm accident survivors’ conference, hosted by EmbraceFARM in Portlaoise.