US expert sheds new light on handling systems

It’s not often UK farmers get a chance to fire questions about their handling systems to a world-renowned specialist.

But – thanks to a workshop organised by the Farm Animal Initiative, EBLEX and SEEDA – farmers, processors and others with an interest in cattle handling held lively debate with Temple Grandin, professor at Colorado State University.

Examining the existing cattle handling facilities at FAI Farm in Wytham, Oxford, Dr Grandin outlined the key changes that can be made to even the most basic system at least cost to ensure handling for tagging, medication and loading is as stress-free and effective as possible.

Non-slip flooring is a must for all handling facilities, she warned. “Falling is a primal fear. If animals have slipped once, this leads to stress and panic, making them associate subsequent handling with stress.

“Welding metal rods diagonally in concrete, or grooving concrete in 2cm ridges, allows animals to grip even in wet conditions. Loading ramps must have non-slip flooring, with points of entry masked by straw or shavings and, when possible, light entering the trailer to reduce the black hole effect.”

Stressing the importance of light intensity, Dr Grandin suggested that where possible, handling facilities should be constant.

“Run animals back toward the point of entry to the system and keep the whole system in constant light levels. Avoid running into bright sunlight or black holes.

“Handling animals on a cloudy day is beneficial to avoid shadows affecting flight path.

“Ensure systems have as many solid sides as possible, experiment using cardboard if needs be.

“Time spent handling cattle should be kept to a minimum of 20-30 minutes in the race. When possible, work smaller groups and only fill the handling pen half-full. Never overstock pens.”

Have a careful look down your race and in the collecting yard, advised Dr Grandin. “Look for light-catching metal objects, chains hanging down, jagged edges and flooring changes.

When the flooring changes at the point of entry, this will spook animals.”

Associating new handling systems, trailers or vehicles for the first time with less traumatic processes by running cattle through race systems to feed them will also help, she said.

“We have a salt lick on our crush, meaning all animals are more than happy to travel through it,” contributed one farmer.

Dr Grandin added: “Fractious animals can be calmed using squeeze crushes and the Pearson crush is a particularly effective way of carrying out routine management tasks which would normally create a high level of stress in both handlers and animals.”

For more information on designing cattle handling systems, see