Slow and steady improvements
March 20, 2013
Dr. Temple Grandin
A recent survey done by Kansas State Univ. indicates that feedlots in Kansas have improved their handling. A total of 56 commercial feedlots were surveyed while cattle were being handled in the squeeze chute for vaccinations. At each feedlot, 100 cattle were observed and handling was scored similar to the AMI guidelines.
The average scores at the 56 feedlots were: Cattle moved with an electric prod: 4 percent. Cattle falling when exiting the squeeze chute: 0.2 percent. Cattle vocalizing while entering the squeeze chute and during catching: 0.9 percent. Cattle that ran or jumped when exiting: 6 percent. Cattle caught in the wrong position in the squeeze chute: 0.2 percent.
These scores are all at the excellent level and can serve as a baseline. Unfortunately, there are some areas where I’ve seen problems. I have observed problems with fed cattle that are difficult to handle. During cold weather, I have observed stiff feedlot steers with extremely heavily muscled rear ends that were reluctant to walk, probably due to overuse of beta-agonists or poor uneven feed mixing.
During hot weather, I have observed some cattle that were heat stressed with extended tongues and open mouth breathing. Many of these animals were sore-footed lame. I am willing to evaluate everything on an outcome basis. I don’t care what you fed them, but stiff, lame or heat-stressed cattle are never acceptable.
Recently, I had the opportunity to observe loading pigs at the farm. They had a simple, economical, portable pig-loading ramp. It was on a 15-degree slope and two 275-lb. market hogs could easily walk up side-by-side. The width has to be just right at about 36 inches. If it is too wide, a third pig will cause jamming and if it was only 30 inches wide, the two pigs will jam. The metal floor had round metal rod cleats spaced 8 inches apart. It had a catwalk on one side and convenient racks for storing parcels and driving aids. The falling score and electric prod score on this ramp was 0 percent.
An article was recently published in the Journal of Animal Science, which compared a sophisticated loading gantry with a standard loading ramp. The study was done by researchers at Iowa State Univ. and Jeffrey Hill in Alberta, Canada. The traditional ramp was only 30-inches wide and the slope was 19 degrees. The loading gantry was 36-inches wide and it had a more gradual slope.
The percentage of pigs that fell, jammed or piled up on the loading gantry were significantly lower. The loading gantry is extremely expensive, and the simpler ramp that I observed at the pig farm had the two most important features, which accounted for the improvements in handling.
When I looked at the falling scores on the loading gantry vs. the traditional chute, they were 62 percent vs. 12 percent. These are atrocious scores. When I called the author, he admitted that the loading crew used an electric prod on every pig.
Design makes a difference. A chute that’s 36-inches wide with a 15-degree slope, can provide similar benefits.
Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc. Fort Collins, Colo., and is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ.