Handling keeps improving

by Dr. Temple Grandin
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Compared to years ago, handling of cattle and pigs has really improved. Everybody knows that an electric prod should never be used as a person’s primary driving tool and that yelling at livestock causes stress. However, there is still room for improvement. 

Dr. Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin

The secret to smooth animal movement is to time when the next small bunch of pigs or cattle are brought up to the crowd pen to take advantage of natural following behavior. Handlers should be trained to wait until the single-file chute is partially empty before bringing the next bunch into the crowd pen. This enables the animals to immediately pass through the crowd pen and enter the single-file chute without stopping.

To explain it simply, the crowd pen should be used as a “passing-through” pen. If the next bunch is brought up when the single-file chute is full, the animals will have to stop and wait. When they have to wait, they will often turn around. People are often reluctant to time bunches because they are afraid they will let the line run out of animals. When this method is used, there will be a learning curve and there may be skips in the line until the handlers figure out the perfect timing. I have seen timing of bunches used for both cattle and pigs in both large and medium-sized plants. After the handlers learn how to do it, animal movement occurs much more smoothly.

Good Handling means More Walking

Good animal handling for both cattle and pigs will require more walking to bring up small numbers of animals. The small bunches should fill the crowd pen that leads to the single-file chute only half full. If your chute has a one-way backstop gate at its entrance, the animals will enter more easily if the gate is opened BEFORE the next bunch enters the crowd pen. Forcing cattle or pigs to all push through a backstop may cause balking or turning back. Equipping the backstop with a remote-control rope will make it easy for the handlers to hold it open for the approaching animals. When timing of bunches and low-stress handling methods are perfected, handlers will learn that often many one-way backstops can simply be tied open.

In a round crowd pen that is equipped with a crowd gate, the handlers should NEVER push the crowd gate up tight against the animals. Often the crowd gate can be latched in the initial position and not used to make the pen smaller. Attempting to push animals with a crowd pen gate is poor technique.

Handlers moving animals in a single-file chute must avoid the bad practice of standing at the head of the animal and poking its butt with a paddle or flag. This gives the animal conflicting signals to move forward and backward at the same time. A better method to move an animal forward in a chute is to quickly walk past the point of balance at the shoulder in the opposite direction of desired movement. This sounds really counter intuitive but it really works. When the handler quickly walks past the shoulder, the animal will move forward.

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