Improved design applied to cattle handling equipment

Easier on cattle and people and the job gets done faster

For three weeks in December 2018, I filled in at a former practice. There were a few really positive things and improvements in many of the farms I visited previously. Most are progressive operators so improvements are always being made. These improve animal welfare and make it easier on the people involved — including me, the veterinarian.

Handling setups are now to the point where we can create an even flow to cows coming into a system without too many disruptions. In my mind, cattle handling has improved to where proper design along with pressure created often by just body language gets cattle streaming into a facility. The most popular tool to carry now is a flexible handle with a flag on the end. It is light to carry, has lots of reach, causes no pain or bruising and in sorting you can still direct the cattle.

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With these new systems there are very few alley stops used as cattle keep moving forward. If one analyzes former cattle handling you will find we spent more time getting cattle to move backward. Avoiding this problem is best accomplished by separation leading up to the chute.

Slider doors or bi-fold doors, either right behind the chute or better yet one cow length behind the palpation cage, can easily accomplish this and make a day’s processing or pregnancy checking a lot smoother. These doors can either be operated manually or hydraulically. One can be placed at the start of the runway coming out of the tub or bud box as well. This allows you complete control of the situation by always working outside and prevents piling up in the chute area, forcing cows to back up. Often these doors are accessible to the veterinarian so at preg-checking time the vet can run these sliders or bi-fold doors and help it run more smoothly.

Many great designs

A lot of the newer models of the chutes manufactured by Arrowquip, Hi-Hog, Morand, Stampede Steel and Tuffs will have the palpation cage incorporated into the chute and a slider or bi-fold door sitting right behind the cage. The chutes may appear more expensive, but it is because they have combined three handling pieces of equipment into one. Additions that have been made are the ratchet bars which facilitate movement out of the chute. The bottoms are often constructed with cross struts that allow a bit of slippage, so it’s easier for cattle to get on their feet. You do need to watch when working behind. If feet slip you may get pinched.

Sort gates right out of the chute or in some cases by using the side release doors, make it possible to sort cattle two or three different ways, eliminating the need to re-sort. These doors also make it easily accessible to storage coolers for vaccines and other products you may need close at hand. The need to have a table or workbench at the correct height is important for accessibility, but it should also be at the right height ergonomically for the workers. Even hydraulic chutes are positioning levers at adjustable heights to eliminate fatigue in the arms after a hard day. As an added safety measure, I’ve even seen some operators wearing hard hats or the baseball cap-type hard hats to prevent injuries.

The lead-up tub systems are still very popular but bud boxes are also being used.

It is nice when you can work cattle on the outside and essentially lead them up the system. Stress-free cattle handling is what we are trying to achieve.

Improved design for processing facilities definitely helps, but more importantly we also need people with proper cattle-handling skills. We always need to check that we don’t forget anything when processing. If we can train ourselves to connect with the cattle and reduce stress, it all helps to reduce disease risk and transmission leading to reduced need of antimicrobials.

The highest standards of animal welfare are maintained and the cattle simply do better. This Merck Animal Health website creatingconnections.info has lots of videos and narration describing this stress-free method of creating that connection with the cattle. It covers all areas of handling from unloading, loading, acclimation in their pens, and moving cattle as well as processing and how we can maximize that trust with the cattle. This in itself makes handling and processing run more trouble-free. This applies to both dairy and beef cattle and the different classes. There is something on this website for everyone from the total greenhorn to the most experienced cattleman so please check it out.

Hope the summer grazing goes well — feel for those in the drought situation.

This article originally appeared in the July 16, 2019 issue of Grainews.

About the author

Contributor

Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.

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