Reduce Economic Loss at Loading

Industry figures show that a major cause of animal injury and economic loss is loading and unloading. It can’t be put much plainer. Using poorly maintained facilities when loading or unloading livestock, is hard on the animals and it costs you money. And rough handling isn’t necessary to make the job go faster, says an international expert on livestock behaviour and handling techniques.

The need for good facilities and sensible handling can’t be overstated, advises Temple Grandin of Colorado State University. “A lot of people feel that being rough is the only way to handle cattle, ” she explains. “It’s cruel to the animal, and often ends up being counterproductive.”

It’s estimated that rough treatment and overcrowding of cattle in corrals, holding pens and squeeze chutes, and pushing and prodding stock on and off trucks, costs the U.S. beef industry about $22 million a year in lost meat quality due to bruising. A relative amount can be tallied up in Canada. Bruising and stress-related meat quality losses can result from what some consider to be routine and necessary loud and rough handling of livestock.’

Good Facilities, a Good Beginning

Keep loading ramps and chutes well maintained. If you’re building new ones, don’t be cheap. Select heavy duty steel pipe, at least 2 inch thick lumber, and/or concrete building materials that are strong and will last. In areas with the greatest cattle pressure, avoid prefab and portable panels made of lightweight metal tubing.

Routinely inspect and remove hazards. Holes in flooring, broken boards and bars can injure animals or allow them to escape. Look for protruding pieces of angle iron, nails or long bolts around the chute and corral area that can bruise flesh or rip hides.

Eliminate Loading Chute Distractions

Secure or remove any loose materials in the chute area that may flop or make noise, and spook cattle. Ramps and crowd pens should have solid fences to prevent cattle from being frightened by distractions outside the chute.Keep dogs away from the chutes and crowding pen. They only distress the cattle and create “kickers.”

Eliminate as many noises as possible around the chute, and loading ramp areas. Cattle are especially sensitive to high-pitched noises such as the whine of electric motors and some hydraulic pumps. Keep the area quiet, for the sake of both workers and animals.

A Solid Ramp: Highway to Heavenly Loading

Ideally, the loading ramp should be made of concrete in a stair step design. The steps should have no more than a 3.5 inch rise, and have at least a 12 inch long tread, with 2 deep grooves made in the concrete.If the ramp is made of wood, attach 1.5 inch to 2 inch square cleats on the ramp every 8 inches. Hardwood or square steel tubing should be used for cleats.

On farms, the ramp should have at least a 5 foot level dock at the top so that, in particular, unloading cattle have some place to stand before they go down the ramp.

At high volume feedlots and packing plants, the dock at the top of the ramp should be at least 10 feet long. If trucks with varying deck heights use the loading ramp, look for a floating ramp design that can be adjusted to match truck height. Most cattle liners have a deck height of about 48 inches. For best cattle flow, the truck deck should be no more than 6 inches higher than the loading ramp.

Choose Truckers Carefully

There are many good truckers on the road with the knowledge and experience to deliver cattle to market efficiently and in good condition. Those in the livestock industry should make a point of hiring a reputable driver to move the valuable cargo, advises Kevin Cornforth, of Hartford Insurance Co.Ask your neighbours, local feedlot or packing plant for some recommendations on reliable truckers in the area.When loading or unloading, make sure the truck is backed up squarely to the loading ramp. Don’t leave any gaps that can result in cattle with broken legs or other injuries. Make sure the truck box interior is clean with good footing. Sand provides adequate footing for cattle, but it can also wear off the grooves on the floor surface. Plenty of clean straw serves as ideal bedding, helps keep the cattle clean, and provides solid footing.

Don’t mix different classes of animals in a single compartment. Even on short hauls, make sure calves, cows and bulls are partitioned separately. Overcrowding on a truck is the leading cause of injury to livestock. It’s cruel treatment that may make short term economic sense, but will cost you in the long run.


Patience, the Best Handling Tool

Having good facilities is half the battle in handling livestock smoothly, safely and humanely. Proper staff training and attitude are equally important. Generally if you stay calm, the cattle will stay calm, says Temple Grandin. Show some patience. Give animals two or three seconds to get used to the facilities and find their own way. Also, give them some space. If you crowd them before they’re ready to move they will become agitated, balk and try to turn back.

Keep Your Cool

The notion that you need to beat and holler at cattle to get them on and off trucks is nonsense. Most stock will need some coaxing as they move up a loading ramp, but with a clear path of exit, they should unload without fuss.

Show Leadership

Farms, feedlots, and packing plants that handle cattle quietly are farms, feedlots and packing plants where the management insists on proper handling techniques.  As a manager, learn proper principles, proper livestock handling and insist employees follow your lead.

Quit When You’re Ahead

Use electric stock prods and other tools of persuasion sparingly, If they are used too often the cattle will always be nervous as workers approach. If the prod or even tail twisting, produces the results you’re after, stop using it. Cattle will learn there is some “reward” if they respond to whatever means of persuasion is being used, says Grandin.

Safety in Numbers

When possible don’t work with a single animal. Most cattle move better in groups of two or more. A single animal can be very difficult and also very dangerous.

The World is Watching

The vast majority of livestock handlers are interested in safe, efficient and humane handling of stock. Those who aren’t interested stick out lake a sore thumb, says Grandin. As the world takes a greater interest in animal welfare issues and the environment in general, the need for the industry as a whole to adopt responsible handling techniques becomes essential.