In the HBO movie, “Temple Grandin,” there is a scene where the non-slip ramp I designed for the dip vat entrance was covered with a metal plate, which made the cattle slip. This actually happened and it resulted in cattle drowning. The system worked perfectly when the plate was removed and the non-slip flooring was restored.

When I designed the center track restrainer system for large beef plants, I used the same ramp design. When the entrance is well lit, cattle will willingly walk into the restrainer down the non-slip ramp. It is difficult for some people to believe that cattle will willingly enter and not have to be forced.

It totally frustrates me that in 2011, people are still making the same mistake with center track restrainer ramps that was made with the dip vat ramp in the early 70s. I recently visited two plants where the entrance ramp had either been completely cut off or the cleats had been removed to make it slick. Doing this makes it harder to get the cattle in. At one plant, the light at the entrance was broken and instead of replacing it, they removed the cleats and made the ramp slick. At the other plant, the lack of an entrance ramp made the cattle feel like they were jumping off a cliff. The people who did this had good intentions, but they just could not comprehend that behavior can be more powerful than force.

Using behavior

It is hard for some people to comprehend that 1,200-lb. cattle can be controlled by what they see. I have gone to many plants and made them work so much better using big pieces of cardboard to block visual distractions, and a portable light to illuminate the chute entrance. For both cattle and pigs, their movement is controlled by three major factors: 1) what they see; 2) what they feel underfoot; and 3) their degree of excitement.

Below are some simple principles to improve cattle and pig movement:

1. Non-slip flooring – Animals panic when they slip. This is especially important in restrainer entrances and stun box floors. When cattle refuse to stand still in a stun box, it is usually due to slipping on the floor.

2. Move small groups and fill the crowd pen that leads to the single file chute half full.

3. No yelling.

4. Illuminate stun box and restrainer entrance. Animals are afraid to enter dark places. Experiment with a portable light.

5. Block vision so approaching animals do not see people or moving machinery. Get down in the chutes and look. Experiment with cardboard.

6. Animals will balk if air blows in their faces. Changing airflow will improve animal movement.

7. Remove distractions such as coats on fences, and sparkling reflections. Moving ceiling lights will often eliminate a sparkling reflection on a wet floor.

8. Center track restrainer systems for cattle and V-conveyor systems for pigs must have a solid false floor. A false floor facilitates animal entry because it prevents the animals from seeing the “visual cliff” effect.

I think everybody that has a center track restrainer should watch the five-minute segment in the movie that shows how the entrance ramp works. This may help prevent more people from making the same mistake today.