Introduction to the challenge addressed
Good cattle handling systems make work easy for limited manpower operations and confine cattle in a hazard free environment. Well designed corrals will: reduce handling time and operator requirements; increase operator safety; minimize animal injury and stress during treatment and handling operations. The operations of any cattle facility depend on cattle behavior, corral design and the skill and technique of the handler (Corrals for Handling Beef Cattle, Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Canada, 1993 – ISBN 0-77326126-5).
The H. do Azinhal beef cattle farm is located in the south of Portugal in Alentejo, about 30 km from Portalegre. With a herd of 400 suckler cows, mostly of the Alentejana breed, one of the difficulties faced by the producer when he started the activity about twenty-five years ago, was managing the herd whenever it was necessary to intervene.
At the time, still far from the current times with access to information through the internet, the producer sent a letter to Dr. Temple Grandin, asking for support, and received the desired information in a letter from the post office to build his cattle handling facilities.
The farmer also uses these facilities to manage the group of young males raised and fattened on the farm.
Description of Innovation
The construction of the management park followed the principles described by Dr. Temple Grandin, with regard to the movement of animals and her suggestions on this type of infrastructure. See examples in the images below with the associated explanation.
With the support of this construction to handle the herd, all the necessary operations (weaning of calves, veterinary interventions, weighing of young fattening bulls, etc.) have become easier to carry out.
The challenges for the farmer were essentially the investment and getting access to the necessary material in that time (about twenty years ago). Nowadays the necessary material is easy to obtain, however most of the farms still do not have handling facilities with these characteristics.
Impact on farm performance
This good practice has the following impact on farm performance:
- Reduce costs;
- Reduce handling time;
- Reduce animal injury and stress;
- Increase operator’s safety.
Text references from “Corrals for Handling Beef Cattle, Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Canada, 1993 – ISBN 0-77326126-5”
Curved working chutes (images 1, 2, 3 and 6) prevent the animal from seeing the truck, squeeze chute and people until it is almost in the truck or squeeze. A curve chute takes advantage of the animal’s natural circling behavior. As you enter a pen the animals will form a circle around you and face you. As you move through the pen, they will circle around you.
The solid walls (images 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6) act like blinders on a horse, the cattle can’t see distractions outside the pen, what prevent animals from becoming agitated. Cattle tend to be calmer in a chute with solid sides, and leave by the one open path being the entrance to the single file working chute.
The collection alley is important (images 2, 3 and 4), and should not be too wide neither too narrow. Is should be about 10 to 16 feet wide and with gates to divide the cattle into smaller groups. The crowd gate on the crowd pen (images 2, 3 and 4) should also be solid to prevent animals from attempting to turn back towards the stockyard pens they just left.
A raised walkway (catwalk - images 1, 5 and 6) 18 inches wide around the crowding pen allows the handler to see over the fence and follow the cattle. The height of the catwalk is 36 to 42 inches below the top of the crowding pen fence. The fence should be a about belt buckle height when the operator stands on the catwalk (image 5).
The existence of different pens at the exit of the working squeeze chute to separate animals into groups is useful and important in optimizing working time (image 7 and 8).
Farmer comment (for Good Practices)
With this system, the necessary work with the animals became safer and faster, reducing the stress they are subjected to. Before we had this system in place to perform any technical action with the herd it took the farmer a whole day. Whereas now, it takes us a morning but the labour required is less.
Recommended Animal Handling Guidelines & Audit Guide: A Systematic Approach to Animal Welfare, published by North American Meat Institute.
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