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It's all about the facilities

As many of the producers that I visit and speak to, the one critical aspect of owning cattle is great handling facilities.  The appropriate facilities are advantageous in numerous ways.  I will outline two of them briefly here.

Safety - This is probably the biggest factor, not only for you but also the livestock.  While you may have been around the cattle all your life, a son/daughter, grandchild, or even a neighbor may come along at sometime to help you.  These people do not know your cattle nor do your cattle know them.  This can cause anxiety - stress - and balking for the cattle. Safe handling also minimizes stress on cattle, which can reduce their weight and ability to fight disease and cause performance problems. Stress can also cause bruising and injuries, which are quality defects.

Saving Money -  Many smaller beef producers feel that they cannot afford to invest in handling facilities—that the return is not sufficient to justify the additional expense. But cattle handling facilities,whether they are new or an improvement on what you already have, can help improve a beef operation's profitability.  A well-planned handling facility can help you save money by making easier practices such as preventive health management, pregnancy testing, implanting, controlling para-sites, vaccinating, castrating, and dehorning.

Facility Design - Well-planned facilities allow cattle to flow smoothly and provide handlers convenient access to them. So cattle can move easily, you need to spend some time mentally following the traffic pattern through the handling area and back to the feed-lot, barn, or pasture. Spending a few minutes planning for your facility can save hours later. Try to answer the following questions:

• Are cattle flowing in only one or several directions?
• Will it be easy to pen cattle, or do I need to move gates?
• Will gates swing in the correct direction?

When designing a handling facility:
• Design with an eye toward safety for both animals and operator.
• Plan for economy—you do not need expensive facilities for small herds.
• Try not to oversimplify—there are minimum standards with which you need to comply in order to have a good working facility.
Design so you can conveniently sort and handle animals. If possible, build your facility in a central location.
• Build components both strong and solid enough to hold the animals.
• Avoid dead ends, bottlenecks, and corners or projections that could bruise, injure, or cripple. If you cannot avoid them, at least cover them with padding.
• Light, both in intensity and pattern, should be kept as uniform as possible.  The vision of cattle is sensitive to highly contrasted light and dark, which can cause balking—especially a problem when cattle see a single shadow falling across a scale, alley, or loading chute.
• Loading and squeeze chutes should face either north or south to minimize the effect of bright sunlight. Cattle tend to move better from dark areas into areas that are lit, but they will not approach blinding light (like bright sunlight). They also will not enter a dark barn.

If you have any questions about designing cattle working facilities there are numerous publications.  I can help you locate them and/or design the facilities!

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