27 March 1998

Too many arent handling with care

CATTLE handling systems on many farms are inadequate and ill thought out causing animals more stress, while increasing labour and time spent handling stock.

That criticism is levelled by ADAS chartered building surveyor, Nigel Belton, who says dairy and beef producers have much to learn from their sheep farming colleagues on efficient handling of stock.

"There are health and safety issues, as well as welfare issues, concerned with handling stock. And many farms are ill equipped," claims Mr Belton.

"Many systems are temporary and old. Even basic requirements, such as squeeze gaps that allow staff to get away from stock quickly and safely, are often overlooked."

A handling system must minimise stress on the animal while improving working environment for staff, he says. It starts with a good holding pen.

"Cattle should flow through a system. Holding pens should have a minimum 3m wide entry gate and allow 1.1-1.4sq m a beast (11.8-15sq ft).

For circular pens, diameter should be no less than 5.2m (17ft). Gates should operate so cattle are directed towards a funnel-shaped race. The angle shouldnt be above 30í from the holding pen."

Minimum raceway width should be 75cm (29in), height 1.5m (5ft) and allow 2m (6.5ft) a beast in length. "Allowing several beasts to line up single file before the crush will encourage a follow-my-leader effect – saving time."

Squeeze gaps should be included to allow staff to enter at strategic points – in the holding pen and directly behind the crush. "I prefer to see a gate behind the crush that locks off the raceway. Staff can then get in behind to work in safety."

Contact should be kept to a minimum between cattle and staff, says Mr Belton who prefers a wider belly rail rather than sheeted sides to avoid hands being trapped.

To improve flow, the handling system should run directly off a parlour or beef yard. "Ideally, after the crush there should be at least two segregation pens, with one having access to a loading ramp for stock being moved off farm."

Undercover and light handling areas will improve working conditions.

Floors should be level, grooved but free draining. An insulated power supply should be provided, he adds.

The crush itself should be secure and level. Hinges and levers should be ergonomical. "A good yoke is also essential," he adds.