Recently I was talking to a person who works on livestock handling at packing plants. Plant management had installed a lamp on their restrainer entrance to facilitate animal entry. Adding the lamp made it possible to greatly reduce electric prod use. Using lamps to illuminate dark places is a subject I have talked about many times. Unfortunately, there is still a need to keep refreshing everybody’s memory.
When the lamp’s bulb burned out, management had failed to replace it. A dark entrance caused the cattle to balk and this resulted in increased electric prod use. After their electric prod use score had greatly increased, they called in a consultant who quickly found the broken lamp. It then took time to retrain the employees who had to prod the animals excessively to force them into the dark entrance.
Why did they fail to fix the burned out lamp? Possibly they had new employees who did not know why the lamp had been installed. When it broke, they failed to observe that the lack of illumination had an effect on animal movement. For many people, it is sometimes hard to understand the power of behavior. Many times I have installed a lamp on a chute entrance and it is amazing the difference it makes. The lamp must light up the way in front of the approaching animals. It must never directly shine in the eyes of approaching animals.
Airflow and balking
When either cattle or pigs refuse to enter a stun box or chute, the first thing to look for is the direction of airflow. If air blows back into the faces of approaching animals, they will often refuse to move forward. Sometimes there will be time-of-day effects. In the cool early morning, the animals may move easily and later in the afternoon, they may start balking and electric prod use may increase. When the outside temperature rises and additional fans are turned on inside the plant, this may force more air back down the chute.
For food safety reasons, air movement going back into the plant must be controlled. Ideally at the stun box entrance, there should be no air movement. At one plant I visited, they had a fan to cool the employees who worked alongside the single file chute. When this fan blew across the top of the chute, it caused major cattle balking and skips on the line. It was likely that the cattle could barely feel the small amount of wind. When the fan was turned so that the direction of BOTH the air movement and the cattle was the SAME, they moved easily. Details matter to animals. Tiny environmental details can make a big difference in animal movement.
More and more packers are now using the Arrowsight Remote Video Auditng system to address some of these issues. I recently visited Arrowsight’s “Mission Control,” center in Huntsville, Alabama. A video tour of many plants indicated that handling was easily passing the audits. A few plants were achieving the true art of stockmanship. One beef plant demonstrated poetry in motion with perfectly timed bunches moving through the crowd pen. The person working on the crowd pen had become a master of stockmanship. The animals moved all the way to the stunner entrance with no assistance from people. Most others kept prod scores low, but there were often too many animals placed in the crowd pen. Good handling requires more walking to move small bunches of cattle or pigs through the crowd pen. Managers will need to constantly monitor the numbers of cattle or pigs brought up to the crowd pen from the yards.