Cattle Handling Systems – The Dos and Don'ts of DesignThursday 27 May 2010
FOLLOWING the success of the beef improvement meeting held at Highfield Farm (Chorley) in February, a second meeting was held at the same venue looking at cattle handling systems and their design in more detail.
Miriam Parker, of Livestockwise Ltd, has designed cattle systems all over the the world. She opened the meeting with a tour around the farm and a discussion of what the host farmer was actually looking for in his new handling system. Miriam then gave a more detailed overview of the three factors involved in a cattle handling system: people, cattle and the system itself. The interaction between these factors determines how successful and efficient the system is.
In terms of the people it is important that stock handlers remain calm at all times to avoid frightening the cattle, but also to be confident and assertive as cattle can sense hesitation and fear. The handler must be aware of the fact that, like us, cattle have an area of personal space (flight zone) around them, and if the handler enters this zone the animal sees it as a threat and will move away from it. Knowledge of the flight zone principle can be used by the handler to control cattle movement e.g. to make the cow move forward the handler should just move within the flight zone boundary.
Miriam described how cattle behaviour is influenced by instinct, senses and learnt behaviour and stems from their need to survive:
Cattle instinctively develop a hierarchy or ‘bunt order’ in the herd with the more dominant members above those lower in the order.
Cattle use their senses of sight, smell and hearing to detect new stimuli and then respond to it according to their assessment of a potential threat. If a cow perceives a situation to be threatening they may adopt the fight, flight or freeze response.
The response of a cow to a particular situation can also be based on their past experience of that situation, so for example if they associate a certain person or place with a negative experience they are more likely to respond in a way to try and avoid it in the future. This is why it is useful to get cattle used to a handling system by using it for routine non-painful procedures such as weighing and then they learn to associate the crush with positive experiences rather than negative.
An effective handling system is safe, simple and efficient and should be designed so the cattle are ‘pulled’ through it by being attracted to something, as opposed to being ‘pushed’ through it by fear.
The following video is of a Cheshire farmer who has improved his handling system through the Livestock Programme's health planning and grants fund:
The following points must be considered when designing an effective system:
Site – should be level as cattle are reluctant to move uphill.
Layout – ensure there is sufficient space to avoid the cattle having to make sharp, tight turns.
Orientation – encourage cattle through the system by ensuring the exit is back towards the field or their home pen.
Lighting – cattle do not like moving into dark areas so ensure the whole system is well lit. This also makes working in the work areas much easier.
Floor – must have a non-slip surface. Must also be a uniform surface as anything different such as drain covers will distract the cows, causing them to stop and investigate.
Solid sides – handlers working outside the area will distract the cattle, so use solid sides in key areas such as the crush entrance to block distractions and make the cattle focus on where they are going.
Holding pens – circular pens work better as there are no corners for the cattle to hide in. Pens must never be over-crowded as cattle need plenty of room to move into the race.
Race entrance angle – there should be one straight side and the other set at a 30 degree angle.
For the afternoon session the group was split into smaller groups and set the task of designing a handling system for the host farmer - applying the principles they had learned earlier. Each system was presented to the group and the merits of each discussed.
At the end, anyone that had brought along plans for systems on their own farms had the chance to speak with Miriam individually.
FURTHER GUIDANCE ON CATTLE HANDLING SYSTEMS.
HOW TO BOTH DESIGN A NEW SYSTEM AND ADAPT AN OLD ONE, SEE THE LINKS BELOW