To improve animal handling and maintain the improvements, a step-by-step, systematic approach is recommended. It will also provide a framework for quality assurance staff and plant employees to monitor improvements that have been implemented. Below are guidelines for implementing a systematic approach.
The first step is to make observations in the part of the facility that is most likely to have problems. The principle of the approach is to: 1) observe; 2) implement an intervention to improve; 3) re-observe to determine if the implementation was effective, and; 4) if it is effective, have a program to maintain it. Below are examples of systematic approaches based on typical problems I have seen in many plants.
1. Observations in the crowd pen – Crowd pen is packed full of cattle.
A. Intervention implemented – Put 12 cattle in the crowd pen instead of 20.
B. Re-observe – Fewer cattle improved cattle movement into the single-file chute.
C. Maintain – Since moving smaller groups of cattle requires more walking, handling must be monitored a minimum of once daily.
2. Observations at chute entrance – Some examples of things that make animals balk and refuse to enter the chute are: dangling chains, jiggling or moving gates, entrance is too dark, seeing people, or guillotine gates that have low back clearance.
A. Interventions implemented – Often more than one intervention needs to be tried. A typical example is the installation of a shield to prevent approaching animals from seeing people and stopping a gate from jiggling.
B. Re-observe – The two interventions reduce balking and improved animal entry.
C. Maintain – Check monthly to insure that the interventions are still in place.
3. Observations at the stun box/restrainer entrance – Some examples of items that cause animals to refuse to enter are: entrance is too dark, seeing people, reflections on shiny metal, slick floors, animal’s back touches and bumps into metal, air blowing in the animal’s face, or a slick entrance ramp on a restrainer.
A. Intervention implemented – Installed a light on the restrainer entrance, raised the hold down so the animal’s back does not touch while entering and replaced cleats on center track restrainer entrance ramp to provide non-slip footing.
B. Re-observe – These three interventions improved animal entry and improved the electric prod use score.
C. Maintain – Inspect weekly for a broken light, hold down rack height and non-slips cleats on the entrance ramps.
4. Observations of stunning – Examples of things that cause poor stunning are: agitated animals, lack of stunner maintenance, damp cartridges, low air pressure on a pneumatic stunner, inexperienced operator, malfunctioning balancer or stunner stand is too high or low.
A. Intervention implemented – Repaired the balancer for the pneumatic stunner and provided a short operator with a raised platform to stand on.
B. Re-observe – Repairing the balancer improved the stunning score, but the platform had no effect and the operator hated it.
C. Maintain – Inspect balancer weekly and removed platform.
In the above scenarios, I could not give every example of possible problems, but I wanted to provide an easy-to-understand example of a systematic approach. This will facilitate applying these concepts in a variety of plants, in a step-by-step systematic manner.