Get a Handle on Facilities

October 20, 2010 04:45 AM

Jack Harrison 251Working cattle in broken-down facilities pre-sents many challenges. The materials and equipment in older facilities may not be animal-friendly or safe by today’s measures.

In these situations, the first step in planning is to take inventory of existing facilities, says Clyde Lane, University of Tennessee Extension beef specialist. Some of what you have on hand might be able to be utilized in a newer facility, but make sure your materials and equipment are in sound working order.

For instance, older chutes and headgates may not provide handlers adequate access to the neck area when they give subcutaneous injections.

Following is a list of the equipment and layout needed for an adequate working facility:
1. restraining area/squeeze chute
2. holding pens
3. alley from pens to working area
4. working area
5. loading area
6. crowding pen/tub

Know the need. Typically, the headgate or chute is the star of any facility. Lane lists four basic types: self-catching, scissors-stanchion, positive-control and fully opening stanchion. The key is that it be sturdy, safe, easy to operate and work smoothly and quietly.

If you decide you need a better headgate or squeeze chute, consider the purchase cost, the size and type of the beef cattle operation and the availability of labor. “Even though a headgate is normally satisfactory for most small cow–calf ranches, a shortage of labor can force the smallest operations to utilize a squeeze chute,” says Ray Huhnke, an Oklahoma State University Extension agricultural engineer.

Also consider the materials you have available to construct the pens and facilities. Research different plans and designs to help determine how much material you need.

Planning before construc­tion will ensure greater utilization of all holding pens, Huhnke says. One of the most common errors in holding pen design is insufficient space for sorting cattle as they exit the squeeze chute. “A good corral layout allows sorting from the squeeze chute without disrupting the flow of cattle entering the working area,” Huhnke says.

Animal handling is key. Even the best designed facilities won’t move cattle efficiently and calmly if you and the employees that help work cattle don’t understand the fundamentals of proper animal handling. Low-stress handling methods, for example, have been shown to actually save time in the long run by keeping cattle calm, which also improves production efficiencies.

Tom Noffsinger, a University of Nebraska veterinarian and animal handling consultant, says that with any working corral or pen design, it’s important to keep in mind how you can effectively communicate with the animals. Verbal sounds, rapid movement and prodding do not get the desired results. Instead, by understanding that cattle communicate through visual cues, you can get them moving through the alleys and chutes with the least amount of stress on the animals and those who are working them.

Some key points:

  • Remember to communicate with the animal’s eye.
  • Minimize all sounds coming from humans. “Cattle live in a silent world,” Noffsinger says. Removing loud and unfamiliar sounds keeps cattle calm.
  • Be aware of the handler’s position, distance, angles, speed and direction, since these impact movement.

If you apply good stockmanship practices when working and “communicating” with cattle, you’ll get them through the chute much easier and loaded onto a trailer without stressing either the handler or cattle.

Plan to attend an animal handling demonstration to learn optimal methods for working cattle. You can also work with consultants to help design facilities and train employees on low-stress handling. BT

Tips for Reducing Injuries

  • Teach proper animal handling techniques based on animal behavior.
  • Attend a course in low-stress handling of livestock.
  • Use well-designed confinement facilities and equipment.
  • Reduce noise and stress when working with animals.
  • Make sure only family members of appropriate age and physical ability undertake livestock-handling tasks.

Source: North Dakota State University

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