Working Facilities and Handling Equipment

Published on Thu, 08/01/2019 - 11:30am

 Working Facilities and Handling Equipment.

 Article by Tom R. Troxel, Ph.D. and Shane Gadberry, Ph.D.
 University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research & Extension.

 Working facilities and handling equipment are needed for every cattle operation. Essential parts of the working facilities include (1) cattle pens,2) crowding pen, (3) working alley, (4) squeeze chute and head gate and (5) loading chute.

Several optional items to consider are (1) scales, (2) palpation cage and (3) calf tilt table. The optional items can be built in with the working facilities and equipment or added as needed.
The primary purposes of cattle working facilities and equipment are to provide a fast and efficient way to handle and work cattle, provide safe working conditions for people and cattle and provide the means to perform necessary cattle management practices. Management practices and activities ranging from vaccination of the herd to loading cattle into trailers or trucks are easier with a good set of cattle working facilities.
No particular facility design can be considered best. Design will vary with the type of cattle (calves versus cow/calf, large versus small cattle, etc.), size of the cattle operation, space restrictions and personal preferences on facility layout. Some commercial alleys and tubs are designed to easily adjust to accommodate calves or mature cows.

General Principles to Consider When Planning a Cattle Working Facility
Cattle Vision
Cattle have a wide-angle vision field in excess of 300 degrees. Loading ramps and handling chutes should have solid walls to prevent animals from seeing distractions outside the working area. Seeing moving objects and people through the sides of a chute can cause cattle to balk or become frightened.
Solid walls are especially important if animals are not completely tame or if they are unaccustomed to the facility.
Cattle have a tendency to move from dark areas to lighter areas, provided the light is not glaring.
A spotlight directed onto a ramp or other apparatus will often facilitate entry. Handling facilities should be painted one uniform color because cattle are more likely to balk at a sudden change in color.

Loud noises should be avoided in cattle handling facilities. However, small amounts of noise can be used to assist in moving livestock. Placing rubber stops on gates and squeeze chutes and positioning the hydraulic pump and motor away from a hydraulic squeeze chute will help reduce noise. It is also beneficial to pipe exhausts from pneumatic powered equipment away from the handling area.

Flight Zone
An important concept of livestock handling is the animal’s flight zone or personal space. When a person enters the flight zone, the animal moves away. Understanding of the flight zone can reduce stress and help prevent accidents. The size of the flight zone varies depending on how accustomed the cattle are to their current surroundings, people, etc. The edge of the flight zone can be determined by slowly walking up to the animals. If the handler penetrates the flight zone too deeply, the animal will either bolt and run away or turn back and run past the person. The animal will most likely stop moving when the handler retreats from the flight zone. The best place for the person to work is on the edge of the flight zone. Cattle sometimes rear up and become agitated while waiting in a single file chute. A common cause of this problem is a person leaning over the chute.

Properly Designed Alleys and Chutes
Design, construction and maintenance of chutes or working alleys are especially important. A curved working system or a properly designed loading box with double alleys is more efficient.
Livestock will often balk when they have to move from an outdoor pen into a building. To combat this problem, animals should be lined up in a single file chute/working alley outside. Again, solid sides are recommended on both the handling facilities and the crowding pen that leads to a squeeze chute or loading ramp.

Herd Instinct
Cattle are herd animals, and they are likely to become highly agitated and stressed when they are separated from their herd mates. Many serious cattle handling accidents have been caused by isolated, frantic cattle. If an isolated animal becomes agitated, other animals should be put in with it as cattle are motivated to maintain visual contact with each other. A gentle calf will keep an excited calf calm. Allow livestock to follow the leader and do not rush them. If animals bunch up, handlers should concentrate on moving the leaders instead of pushing a group of animals from the rear. Proper handling management will reduce stress related to shipping fever and carcass damage resulting from bruising.
Providing environmental protection and adequate water is not just an issue of animal well­being, it is vital for optimizing cattle performance. Environmental protection should include excellent pen maintenance for confined cattle. Mud is a big profit robber in confined cattle, as mud increases maintenance requirements and decreases feed efficiency. Mud also causes considerable loss of hide value and increases the cost of processing at the packing plant.  Providing environmental protection, mud control and an adequate supply of fresh, clean water are important parts of quality cattle management.
It is not desirable to work cows and pre­weaned calves through the working facility at the same time. Young calves may get trampled by the cows resulting in calf injury. Therefore, in order to prevent injury to pre­weaned calves, it is important to sort and process cows and calves separately.

Equally as important is the consideration of the following Cattle Handling Guidelines:
• Using their natural flight zone, cattle can be moved quietly. To move forward, move toward their rear past their point of balance (shoulder). To stop or back up cattle in the chute or alley, move forward past their point of balance.
• Handling facilities should ideally have curved chutes and round crowding pens.
• Use two or more sorting pens in front of the squeeze chute.
• Never fill a crowding pen more than three­quarters full; cattle need room to turn around.
• Do not use the crowding pen as a stay area.
• Cattle should move easily up the chute. If not, hanging chains, shadows, backstops, noises, dogs or people could be preventing movement.
• Cover the sides of the squeeze chute, especially the back three­quarters, to reduce balking as they enter the chute.
• Minimize your use of cattle prods (electric and others that bruise). Instead, wave sticks with plastic streamers or paddles on the end.
• Reducing stress on the animal will reduce animal injuries and sickness, employee injury and increase overall efficiency.
The cattle industry is fortunate to have many available resources including local extension services, veterinaries and knowledge equipment manufacturers to assist them in designing and implementing a modern cattle handling program.  A quality handling program will assure you and your cattle are safe, healthy and more profitable.