Well-designed facilities reduce stress for livestock and the producer
Working livestock is an undeniable part of being a livestock producer.
Well-designed facilities create not only efficient ways for working cattle but also affect the stress level of both the livestock and the producer. Many producers work livestock under different conditions with different resources, but they all get the job done.
Here are some tactics to help you work smarter and not harder.
Tip 1: Ensure the catch pen is large enough to safely hold the entire herd, and consider different directions to sort cattle for culling, weaning and simple management purposes.
“Design a system that works well and think about logistics of both the inflow of cattle, where they will be returning to after you’re done with them and a load out point that is easy and convenient to get in and out of,” according to Andy McCorkill, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension in Dallas County, Mo.
Tip 2: Become familiar with the animals’ blind spots and flight zones. Rather than a deterrent, those areas can actually be used to the producer’s advantage. As a general rule, cattle and swine have poor depth perception and are colorblind. These animals are extremely sensitive to shadows, rapid light changes, or objects hanging from posts or rails.
“Don’t leave things hanging over the fence that can be blown by the wind or cast a shadow, such as a jacket,” McCorkill explained. “Think about the lighting to avoid shadows that can appear to be an obstacle to the cattle.”
Cattle and horses have a panoramic field of vision, which means they can see all around them without even moving their heads. However, cattle can’t see objects at their feet without lowering their head. Stepping over objects can prove to be a large obstacle in a working pen and is unnecessary. Cattle and horses also have a blind spot immediately behind them so approaching these animals from behind increases the potential risk of injury.
Tip 3: Don’t overcrowd the system; take it slow. Rushing can increase the injury risk of both livestock and producers. It’s important to remember that old saying, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”
“Cutting corners will make for a long day and increase the odds of someone getting hurt or the start of one of those cattle working arguments that we all know about,” McCorkill said.
Tip 4: Have a good squeeze chute.
“Make sure it is large enough to accommodate your cows, yet capable of squeezing down to handle calves,” McCorkill said. “It’s amazing how much easier the cows flow through when the chute is large enough to accommodate them easily; I would also add a palpation cage to the back of the chute to my ‘wish list’ for the ease of getting in for preg check, AI operations and castration, to name a few.”
The list of must-have chute attributes will vary from producer to producer, but the most important thing to recognize is that it is sturdy, safe and able to meet-the-needs of a livestock owner.
“It doesn’t have to be hydraulic, but the capabilities of catching and restraining a 200-pound to a 2,000-pound animal comfortably is needed,” Ryon Walker, Ph.D., Noble Research Institute livestock consultant said. “Second, an alley that leads into the chute doesn’t have to have the capabilities of holding 15 cows at one time, but match the alley with your herd size.”
Walker said a good range for a holding alley to be from two head (in a portable setup) to 15 head that may consist of a double alley system.
Tip 5: Ensure all portable options are built safe with at least 5.5-feet walls and secured gates. Meeting these recommendations will reduce the likelihood of an escapee and will promote safety for the producer.
“Like the old saying goes, it needs to be horse high, bull stout and hog tight,” McCorkill said.
It’s also important when setting up portable facilities to ensure they are easily accessible, not just for livestock but for the producer as well.
McCorkill said going through a Beef Quality Assurance program as a good first step to introduce you to animal handling and vaccination procedures.