Beware the slurry shuffle | Farm Tales

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Dorset’s daring rescues – but Andrew Livingston points out the very thin line between humourous mishaps and farming tragedies

The RSPCA and three fire service units attempt the rescue of the fox trapped on the slurry pit cover
Image: RSPCA

You may (should?!) have already read my article on the suspension of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt by the British Hound Sports Association. Safe to say, that news wasn’t quite the jaunty tone I need for what I like to think of as the light-hearted, admittedly slightly frustrated, musings my column usually is.
I am, however, still going to talk about foxes …
Well, one, anyway.
This particular fox was found by a Warminster farmer walking across the top of his slurry lagoon. The lagoon, covered by a tarp to keep the rain off, was 25 metres wide and it quickly became a sticky situation for the fox, as his weight caused the water on top of the tarp to pool around him, trapping him on the lagoon.
I suspect the stressed animal quickly quoted Felicity Fox from the 2009 Fantastic Mr Fox movie: ‘If what I think is happening is happening, it better not be!’
Commendations must go to the farmer who quickly contacted the RSPCA to see if they could come and save the animal.
Animal rescue officer Gemma Gumbleton attended the scene and said in a statement:
‘My usual rescue poles just wouldn’t stretch far enough, and because of his anxiety, the panicked fox wouldn’t stay still to allow me to reach him anyway. I knew the rescue would need specialists with expert skills, so I contacted the Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service

Two firefighters descended into the underground pit to attach strops to the trapped cows.
Image: DWFireRescue

‘Three of their units were soon on the scene, including the ‘large animal rescue’ team, who brought their inflatable raft.’
After three hours of both the RSPCA and the three fire service units attempting to save the animal’s life, one individual decided to simply step onto the tarp and just go and get the wild animal. One very wet and very cold fox was swiftly taken to the vets and made a full recovery.

One of the six cows rescued from an underground slurry pit near Dorchester
Image: DWFireRescue
All six cows were unharmed Image: DWFireRescue

Slippery Situations
Interestingly enough, this is not the only Dorset-based slurry rescue tale of the month. Just a week earlier, six cows were rescued by Dorchester and Weymouth fire crews after falling through an inspection hole cover into an underground slurry pit. The animals were trapped for a couple of hours before two brave firefighters descended into the underground pit and waded through the deep cow muck to attach strops to each of the six cows so they could be lifted to safety. Throughout the operation, gas monitors were placed in the pit to check for dangerous gases.
And just one week later, two cows fell into a 15ft deep slurry pit on a farm near Wimborne.
Firefighters from Verwood attended, and a specialist technical rescue crew from Poole was able to remove the cows, using animal strops and the assistance of the farm telehandler.
A brigade spokesperson said: ‘Both cows seemed to be none the worse for their ordeal. The crews, however, needed to decontaminated before they left the incident.’
I know. It sounds too far-fetched to be real.

Two cows stuck in a 15 foot slurry pit on a farm near Wimborne
Image: DWFireRescue

No joke
These animals – and their rescuers – all had genuinely lucky escapes. Slurry can be extremely dangerous. Its viscosity means that if you literally get caught deep in the s**t, you’ll seriously struggle to get out.
In the village of Hooke, where I grew up, a farmer who went missing was eventually found; still in his tractor, submerged in the slurry pit.
An inquest into his death suggested that in the process of pushing muck into the pit, the farmer had suffered a heart attack. The tractor kept going with the farmer still inside … and that was that.
These animal rescue stories are fun and both have a happy ending. But they should serve as a stark reminder that farming is a dangerous profession. Already this year there have been three reported farm deaths. This ending isn’t particularly ‘jaunty’, but the truth needs to be told.
It’s barely February and we are already on three.

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