Heifer growers perform regular handling activities that may stress cattle, which can lead to reduced growth and diminished immune response.
One way to help minimize stress is to develop handling procedures that are designed with cattle behavior and caretaker safety in mind. Also remember that facilities should be designed and constructed to take advantage of the cattle’s natural instincts.
Here are some animal behavior considerations and handling tips to keep in mind when designing animal handling plans.
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.
Handling facilities should be designed to eliminate shadows, which may prevent cattle from entering chutes or working alleys. 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 lead cattle in the right direction.
Handling facilities should be painted a uniform color because cattle are more likely to balk at a sudden change in color.
Hearing: 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 the squeeze chute, will help reduce noise. It is also beneficial to pipe exhaust from pneumatic powered equipment away from the handling area.
Facility Design: Curved, single-file chutes or working alleys are recommended for moving cattle into a truck or squeeze chute. A curved working system is more efficient for two reasons. First, it prevents the animal from seeing to the end of the chute until it is almost there. Second, it takes advantage of the natural tendency to circle around a handler moving along the inner radius. A curved chute (an inside radius of 15- to 16-feet works well) provides the greatest benefit when animals have to wait in line for vaccination or other procedures.
Patience and Experience: Working cattle too quickly can lead to bruises, injection site damage, human injuries and incorrect records. Stress caused by improper handling also lowers conception rates, reduces vaccination effectiveness and reduces immune and rumen functions.
Animals should always be handled in a calm, controlled and gentle manner. Employees and other caretakers should be trained in proper cattle handling techniques, with enforced consequences for inappropriate treatment or handling methods.
An understanding of cattle behavior will facilitate handling, reduce stress, reduce bruise defects and improve both handler safety and animal welfare.
To learn more about animal handling, facility design and hands-on training opportunities, visit BQA.org.