Learning Safety by Accident

Those of us who are a certain age will remember Jock, a character from legendary 80s TV show Dallas. He was the patriarch of a family business empire and lived on arguably the most famous farm in the world – Southfork…

Fast forward 40 years and another Jock has a more modest empire in Dallas although this Dallas is, by his admission, “a wee village between Forres and Elgin in the North of Scotland” and his ‘ranch’ is Edinvale Farm… 

Jock Gibson is married to the awesome Fiona and father to Aila, Tilly and Rory. He and Fiona farm 250 head of Highland and Shorthorn cattle plus a micro flock of around 100 mostly Herdwick sheep and everything is fattened for their award-winning family butcher shop, Macbeth’s in Forres.

Jock started his career as a consultant engineer although, with typical modesty, he admits that he wasn’t that good at it. Irrespective, he returned with his wife Fiona to Forres to run the family butchery business and, after losing both of Jocks parents in fairly quick succession, the couple found themselves in 2015 taking on the family farm as well.

Jock’s journey into farming has been rocky but now he loves it – ‘mostly!’ as he jokes. The couple count themselves lucky to be in a strong position and are trying to build on the solid foundation they inherited. When asked why he enjoys it Jock admits: “I think what really brings the enjoyment is realising that every year there is something you can do differently. I really gain satisfaction from looking at what we are doing and working out if there is a different way. We have made a lot of changes here, hopefully more for the better than worse!”

Obviously, working with livestock every day brings its challenges and dangers – and Jock is well aware of that. Incidents involving cattle were the main cause of fatal injuries in this year’s HSE report, a total of 8 people lost their lives over the past year alone as a result of being injured by cattle and bulls. Jock knows this danger only too well having had his own run-in in March this year.

He explains: “I was just walking past the shed and decided to go and check the water was working. I then saw a calf sucking whilst standing on another newly-born calf so I went to move it off.

I then thought that the new calf didn’t look right and so I just used my foot to clear the calf of straw whilst looking at its mum to see what she was doing.

I would say she was interested but calm. I, then went to clear the calf’s airways and when I got down low, that’s when the mum went for me. Twice!”


He continues: “The video looks bad but she didn’t get me that hard. I hurt my knee but that was more from trying to get up which is difficult in deep straw bedding. Had she gone for me a third time, it could have been different.

Jock admits that, thankfully, it was only his pride (and knee) that was a bit battered but he did learn a vital lesson – he learnt not to take cows behaviour for granted.

He explains: “The cow in question is a cow that we bred on the farm. One of our first after taking over and had already had three calves with no problems.

I felt – temperament wise – she was as good a cow as we had. But at the end of the day, she was feeling protective and I had put myself in a vulnerable position.”

When he reflects on the 10 seconds that could have changed his life completely, he knows he should have removed the calf with a leg crook and checked it in a safe space away from its mother. Despite having always felt that the handling of cattle on the farm was up to par –  ensuring it was a two- or three-person job – on this occasion he slipped up and it only takes one slip up to change the story.

Jock says: “If it can’t be done safely then it doesn’t get done.  That said, any cow and calf operation on farm is definitely now a two-person job – no exceptions.”

Jock has become involved with Scotland’s recently launched Farmstrong Scotland initiative.  Farmstrong is a wellbeing programme aimed at crofters and farmers in Scotland encouraging them to look after their wellbeing. As someone who admits that they have not always enjoyed great levels of wellbeing, Jock feels hugely privileged to be part of the movement. “I have been very lucky to have an amazing family and friends who have helped but I guess I have been poor at helping myself which has not helped anyone or anything.”

He explains what Farmstrong is all about…

“At its core, are the 5 ways to wellbeing: Connect, Give, Take Notice, Keep learning and Be active.

“These five ways help create a new mindset. We burn the candle at both ends, we sit in isolation up a farm track and think that because we are “outdoors” we are active, and we are doing what our parents did because “it worked for them and that is how it has always been done”. The last thing we look after is ourselves and the reality is, we do our families and businesses a disservice if we do not give the same level of attention to our own wellbeing as we do to everything else.”

Part of that message is ensuring that farmers realise that, looking after their health will impact on their ability to work safer. His advice to those working in the industry is “Try and get consistently good sleep. I know myself that my attitude, decision-making and general performance is much better if I am well rested.”

He remembers receiving a card from his parents that said: “Learn from the mistakes of others; you can’t make them all yourself!” and believes that if, by sharing what happened to him in March makes one person stop and decide to grab some help, then he feels it is worth it.

He adds: “For those that don’t believe that farm safety applies to them, remember, people once believed the earth was flat!”

“I can well see that folk might read my story and say “well that would never happen to me because of XYZ”. All I would say is that, whenever we are on farm, or actually in any walk of life, we are always followed around by an invisible cynical little gremlin called ‘Mr Cock-Up’ and he is just waiting to pounce and he has many ingenious ways that you wouldn’t think would happen that will cause you harm.”

I think what Jock is saying is to always be aware of what could go wrong each and every time you undertake a farming task and this reminds me of a line from the other Macbeth: “Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.”

To learn about Farmstrong Scotland CLICK HERE

stephanie_berkeley_zl4u2oa9Learning Safety by Accident