Profit from happy and content cattle

Minimize costs by minimizing stress

How to design a cattle handling system for efficiency

A good handling system combined with good handling methods will go a long way towards raising the profit potential of your herd.

Researchers from around the world have consistently shown that ranchers who have invested in well-designed handling facilities and improved herd management have been rewarded with significant gains in the value of their livestock. Well cared for livestock are happier. Happier livestock are healthier; gain weight faster, and are more productive.

Stress however will have a detrimental effect on livestock. This is why ranchers should pay attention to those things that stress their livestock. Ranchers will also find that if they can minimize the stress on their livestock there will be less stress on the handlers as well. This is because cattle are much easier to handle when they are comfortable and relaxed (not to be confused with tame pets which may require more engagement to motivate them).

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Low stress cattle handling

Minimize costs by minimizing stress

What value is there in keeping livestock calm?

Calm cattle are easier to handle. If you can reduce the stress on your cattle you can work your livestock more efficiently. Stress can be caused by many factors including the site conditions, the safety and design of your handling facilities and corrals, as well as the behavior of those handling the animals.

If you can handle your cattle calmly in a shorter period of time then you are reducing the length of time your stock are exposed to a stressfull environment. But how does this benefit you directly? If working your cattle calmly makes you more efficient you may be able to reduce your labor requirements. By avoiding bringing in handlers that your cattle are unfamiliar with you can further reduce the overall stress of your livestock. (Livestock are stressed by anything that they are unfamiliar with… More on this later)

Stressed cattle are more unpredictable and more likely to injure themselves or their handlers. By keeping your cattle calm you reduce livestock losses due to injury and you create a safer working environment for your staff.

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Avoiding injuries makes Cents

Minimize costs by minimizing stress

Create a safe environment for stock and stockman

Injuries of any kind can adversely affect your profitability.

Severe physical injuries to your livestock clearly show as a loss on your investment. Minor injuries however should not be overlooked as even minor injuries can contribute to your losses.

Minor injuries and the associated stress often result in lower growth rates and lower resistance to illness. Illness may in turn lead to higher medical costs and/or animal loss. Rough handling of your livestock may result in animal bruising. While this may not be immediately apparent it can have a real impact on the value of the end product.

As you are clearly aware the risk of injury extends beyond the stock. An injury to a handler can be devasting.

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Creating a low stress environment

Minimize costs by minimizing stress

Understanding the cattle environment.

By focusing on the animal we can create a safer and more efficient cattle handling environment. A well-designed cattle handling system considers the instinctive behaviors and sensory traits of your cattle. When done well your stock will flow more efficiently, with less stress, and less threat of injury. But before a design can be prepared the designer should have a solid understanding of the sensitivities and behaviors of the animals that will be using the system.

Livestock are acutely aware of their environment. What they see, smell, feel and hear will have an impact on their behavior. In particular livestock will focus their attention on anything that they are unfamiliar with or anything that they feel may present a threat or risk to their safety.

It is important to remember that cattle have played the role of prey for a wide range of predators for thousands of years. They are instinctively cautious.

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Cattle do not have red receptors

Minimize costs by minimizing stress

Be aware of changes in light

When looking for visual threats remember that cattle see a smaller range of colors than we do which makes them particularly sensitive to both contrast and movement. (They do not have red receptors)

A dark shadow across the alley would be an example of a threat created by contrasting light. Until your cattle are satisfied that the shadow does not pose a threat they will not want to walk across it. Shadows of this type are almost impossible to avoid. You may have some success by pre-conditioning your livestock to the alley.

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What dangers lie ahead?

Minimize costs by minimizing stress

How does light affect cattle behaviour

Similarly, sudden changes in light will also slow or stop the flow of your stock. This is often seen when cattle are being brought from the bright sunshine into a poorly lit barn. Until the cattle can adjust their eyes and determine that there is no threat ahead they will refuse to move. Installing better lighting in the barn will help improve the efficiency as your cattle transition from outside to inside.

Cattle will also hesitate or stop if there is too much light such as when the alley they are walking up is facing directly into the rising or setting sun. In this situation they simply can’t see what is ahead. For this reason designers should avoid having the working alley facing where the sun might be when they are handling their cattle.

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Remove foreign objects from alley

Minimize costs by minimizing stress

Visual movement or motion in the path of your livestock may cause your livestock to hesitate too. This is particularly true for items that would be considered strange or unusual to your livestock.

For example a discarded paper cup blowing around in the alley can stop a cow in its tracks. Loose chains or ropes blowing in the wind, a coat draped over a panel, or the movement of a handler can also slow cattle flow.

Many of these distractions can be eliminated with a quick walk-through inspection before handling begins to ensure these distraction are eliminated.

For best results the sides of the alley should be enclosed.  With the side of the alley enclosed most of the visual distractions disappear and the animal can focus on where you want them to go. Additionally the handler can move in and out of view and in and out of the cows flight zone to effectively encourage cattle flow.

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Remove, or secure loose chains

Minimize costs by minimizing stress

Auditory Threats:

Cows are much more sensitive to high frequencies than we are.

As a result livestock find whistling and shouting to be highly stressful. Loose chains and squeaky wheels will also threaten your stock. If you wish to minimize stress in your herd you’ll reduce or remove noise sources and learn how to work your cattle quietly.

To assist in this challenge the metal sheeting on Hi-Hog’s crowding tubs and squeeze chutes have be caulked with sound dampening silicon.

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What's that unusual smell?

Minimize costs by minimizing stress

Beware of new smells

Cattle have an excellent sense of smell and can feel threatened by unfamiliar smells.

These smells could be anything from new handling equipment to the smell of the new neighbour that’s come to help or his new coat that he left hanging on the walkway. If the smell is unfamiliar your cattle will be cautious.

For this reason many ranchers will let their herd investigate new equipment well before they need to handle them with it. By letting stock investigate the equipment you give the herd an opportunity to feel safe around the equipment.

To allow cattle safe access to your handling equipment we recommend that all doors are securely tied open so that your stock will not become trapped.

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Minimize costs by minimizing stress

Do you feel secure?

Cattle will also be happier and hesitate less if they have stable footing.

  • Avoid setting your handling facilities where water might gather and create slippery conditions.
  • If you are using concrete ensure the concrete includes a deep diamond grooved surface.
  • If your site has a slope try to orient the working alley so that it points uphill as cattle are more cautious when going downhill.
  • Get control of your mud by laying EcoRaster where you will be handling your livestock. Hold your ground with EcoRaster.

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Show me the exit and I will go

Minimize costs by minimizing stress

Where do you want me to go?

Cattle have poor peripheral eye sight and can only see depth in a narrow range directly in front of them.

This trait would require you to position the alley so that, as the cattle flow through the crowding tub, they can clearly see the exit into the working alley. The exit should be free from distractions and your stock should see a clear path two body lengths up into the working alley. As your cattle enter the alley they should continue to see clearly at least two body lengths ahead.  If your stock cannot clearly identify where the alley goes, such as when there is a sudden change in the direction of the alley, or if they see a solid gate crossing the path of the alley, they will hesitate, stop, or attempt to back-up or turn around. One of the solutions to this challenge is the use of curved alleys. Curved alleys work particularly well for this as your livestock can see far enough ahead that they want to continue up the alley but not far enough ahead that they can see the closed end of the alley.

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Back to the herd

Minimize costs by minimizing stress

Cattle feel safer when they are together

Livestock have a strong desire to stay with the herd.

To take advantage of this you should design your alley so that movement up the working alley allows stock to maintain visual contact with their herd mates. After the first animal leaves the crowding tub and disappears around the corner of the curved alley the remaining animals will follow the lead animal in an attempt to stay with the herd. The converse of this is also true in that cattle become stressed when they are isolated. Your livestock will not want to be left behind in the crowding tub so they will voluntarily enter the working alley in an attempt to catch up with the herd. To work affectively the working alley should be long enough so that the curve of the alley allows for the lead animal to move out of sight of the remaining animals in the tub. A curved alley over twenty feet in length will accommodate this.  An alley that is long enough to accommodate all the stock in the tub would be optimal.