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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International Livestock forum

Meanwhile, the International Livestock Forum was held for the first time at Colorado State Univ. in January. Don Butler, head of regulatory affairs of Smithfield Foods, told the audience, “We supply what customers want.” A survey done in North Carolina showed that 23 percent of US consumers will buy the cheapest pork. China is a huge customer and they want ractopamine-free pork. China will never buy pork fed ractopamine, according to Butler. During the Q&A period, Butler explained that “the use of ractopamine is not as important to us as we thought five years ago.”

He further explained that in order to satisfy the customers who want sows in loose housing, 71 percent of Smithfield’s US-owned farms have been converted from gestation stalls to loose housing. Butler stated that there were no differences in productivity injuries or lameness. The author has observed that to make loose housing successful, certain genetics lines of pigs that are more aggressive must not be used.

According to Butler, Smithfield has farms in the US, Romania, Mexico and China. They are fully integrated operations. Smithfield manufactures all the feed and the company owns the pigs. Contract growers finish the pigs. Smithfield was purchased by WH Group in China. For 10 years, WH was Smithfield’s largest customer. WH Group is one of the few companies in China that has a complete cold chain from slaughter to the store. There are still many Chinese markets that sell pork with no refrigeration. At the present, China is building three further-processing plants for US pork.

Agricultural Advantages

Butler stated that this country has the advantage of having land, educational infrastructure, strong currency and is free of diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease. The only downside, according to Butler, is “Will the US government make us noncompetitive?”

Another speaker at the symposium was Paul Genho, a soil scientist. He discussed the availability of different types of soils around the world. Both the US and the southern areas of South America have large areas of mollisols, which are the best soils for growing crops. These soils are the breadbasket of the world. The mollisols became fertile because they were developed over eons by grazing animals, which provided fertilizer. This shows very clearly that grazing can be good for the land. The second most-productive soils are the Alfisols that developed under the forests and were fertilized by leaf mulch. China and Africa both have a shortage of these two best soils.

The US has the best soils, but Genho summarized The World Vision Water Report which said the US will be facing water shortages. Even with water shortages, the US is still the largest grain exporter in the world. The US is blessed with low food costs. Genho presented data that the percentage of total income spent on food is 6.8 percent in the US; 22 percent in China; 11 percent in Germany and 42 percent in Pakistan.