IMPROVED CATTLE handling systems will pay dividends for English beef producers keen to increase productivity in response to CAP reform, advises the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX).

At the same time, they will make a major contribution to improving both operator safety and animal welfare.

With labour the second highest cost after feedstuffs for most beef businesses at 10-18% of total costs, reducing labour cost/head is a clear priority for improving profitability.

All the more so, with good stockmen at an ever-greater premium. Under these circumstances, anything that can be done to cut the labour requirement and time spent on routine jobs will be valuable.

Good handling systems are, consequently, becoming increasingly important, cutting the time taken to vaccinate 40 stores, for instance, from five hours to just one. For a typical £10/hour labour cost, this alone represents a saving of £1/head.

To this can be added savings from the whole host of other routine handling operations required on modern beef units – including tagging, weighing, worming, blood sampling, TB testing, pregnancy scanning, and loading stock for movement, sale or slaughter.

Not to mention handling of individual animals for veterinary attention or clipping prior to slaughter.

As well as saving time, good handling systems reduce stress to improve performance and animal welfare, while reducing quality problems like dark-cutting beef.

And they significantly reduce the risk of injury to both animals and stockmen – the latter of which is estimated by the Health and Safety Executive to cost the livestock industry as much as £3.8 million/year.

Handling cattle efficiently demands a combination of good facilities and an understanding of animal behaviour to keep animals moving consistently and calmly.
Key behavioural pointers to improved pen and race design include:

• Cattle dislike moving from light to dark;
• Cattle dislike moving into races that appear to have dead-ends;
• Cattle will baulk at items dangling from the ceiling or other distractions;
• Cattle move better in single file than as a bunch;
• Cattle in open-sided facilities are easily spooked by external movements;
• Cattle do not move well down steep slopes or over slippery surfaces;
• Cattle move more easily through gently curving races;
• Cattle dislike excessive, sudden and high-pitched noise;
• Cattle dislike restraining equipment that moves rapidly or exerts excessive pressure.

Acknowledged world specialist, Dr Temple Grandin provides a wealth of valuable advice on handling facility design at www.grandin.com.