Farmer fatally injured when cow spooked by dog, inquest hears

Peter Byrne (52) died after being crushed on his farm in Rathdangan, Co Wicklow in 2019

A Co Wicklow farmer was fatally injured after being crushed by a cow which crashed through a holding pen after being spooked by a dog, an inquest has heard.

Peter Byrne (52), from Ballymaconey, Rathdangan*, died at the Mater Hospital in Dublin on April 16th, 2019 – five days after he sustained injuries when the animal and metal barriers fell on top of him on his farm.

John McHugh, a local vet, told Dublin District Coroner’s Court he called to Mr Byrne’s farm on the day to take blood samples from a cow and calf.

He said the animals were in a holding pen with the cow at the front, where her head was placed in a crush gate. The vet said Mr Byrne had gone to fetch equipment to dehorn the calf.

As Mr Byrne returned to the shed, Mr McHugh said the cow made “a sudden lunge” forward in an apparent reaction to the presence of the farmer’s dog.

The inquest heard the cow appeared to tear the crush gate and other metal side rails from their foundations.

Mr McHugh said the cow and the other equipment fell on top of Mr Byrne. He said the cow, weighing an estimated 900kg, appeared to lay on the farmer for several minutes while attempting to get up. He said there was no response from Mr Byrne, who appeared unconscious, after he fell to the ground.

The vet and Eric Dunne, who was doing some work on the farm, said they managed to pull the farmer from out from under the animal but he was pale, limp and unresponsive. The vat called 999 and performed CPR on Mr Byrne.

Mr McHugh said he also sedated the cow and subsequently gave the animal and calf lethal injections for safety reasons.

Experienced farmer

In response to questions from coroner Cróna Gallagher, the vet said he had no worries about the equipment being used to hold the cattle and he knew the deceased as an experienced farmer.

Mr McHugh said Mr Byrne’s dog had not barked but he believed the presence of it had sparked the cow’s reaction.

Advanced paramedic Anna May Tiernan said Mr Byrne was in cardiac arrest with no sign of a pulse when an ambulance crew arrived.

Mr McHugh’s partner, Clodagh Daly, described how she “felt sick” after being alerted to what had happened and learning that an Irish Coast Guard Helicopter was coming to airlift him to hospital.

The inquest heard that doctors at the Mater Hospital said Mr Byrne was very unstable due to suffering a cardiac arrest and low blood pressure, which meant it was too dangerous to carry out surgery on his spine. A postmortem concluded that he died from spinal shock due to several fractures in his neck vertebrae resulting from the crush injuries.

The coroner said Mr Byrne may well have died at the farm but for the efforts of Mr McHugh and the ambulance crew.

Health and Safety Authority inspector John Dempsey said there were no obvious visual defects with the crush gate as corrosion in its mountings only became apparent “after the fact”.

A jury of four men and two women returned a verdict of accidental death. They recommended that a system of audit and inspection on the use of farm equipment be put in place for health and safety reasons.

* This article was amended on May 18th, 2022