In the last article, we discussed the importance of good maintenance to a plant’s animal welfare process. Not just the province of mechanics and electricians, effective maintenance is a team effort that involves everyone in the plant. Since it’s usually impractical to get everyone involved in every process, many plants form teams to continually improve processes and sustain the improvements.

Teams should have subject matter experts, such as handlers, equipment operators and maintenance personnel. It’s also beneficial to add members from other areas of the plant: fabrication, grinding, sales, human resources, etc. Team members from outside the livestock handling area bring a fresh perspective and outside-the-box thinking. When starting out, rather than focusing too much on the makeup of the team, remember what is more important is that the process is actually getting started.

Divide and Conquer
Once your team is established, it’s important to divide the livestock handling area into smaller functional areas to help manage the information. This could include: unload, sorting, drive alleys, pens, crowd pen, single file chute, restrainer, and stunning equipment. Each smaller area has its own unique attributes.

How do you decide what to focus on? There is probably a wealth of information already available from internal audits, third party audits, NR’s and anecdotal observations of the team members. Look for areas where balking occurs, or conditions that can lead to injury—slippery floors, protruding bolts, noisy fans, etc.

A thorough walk-through following the path livestock travel from the unloading dock to the stunning area can help team members to “see with the eyes” of a cow or pig. It’s a good idea to require all animal handlers, their supervisor and appropriate maintenance personnel to walk and crawl the single file chute to the restrainer to see what the animal sees.

At one plant recently, I observed cattle were balking in the single file chute for no apparent reason. When the person doing internal audits walked the single file chute on his hands and knees, he could see people moving on an overhead catwalk in the barn. The catwalk was a common trafficway from the barn to the slaughter floor, and the auditor speculated that the sporadic people movement was a distraction at points along the single file chute. The animal handling team evaluated the specific observation and brainstormed solutions. The result? Two 4’x8’ pieces of plywood were suspended from the roof trusses to block the view of the catwalk. After trying several different positions for the plywood panels, the correct placement was identified. The plywood was painted grey to match the background of the concrete block walls. Follow-up audits confirmed the success of the change. Voila, no more balking!

Likely, you will find items in each area to improve. It’s important to record each problem, determine the priority, and find the solution. Items that could lead to injury must be corrected immediately. Others can be scheduled for the most efficient use of time and resources.

Sustain the Gain
Process implies continuous action; the animal welfare process is no different. The team should have a facilitator, who insures that there is a periodic review of animal welfare activities, including the physical condition of the handling area and equipment. All items should be documented in an action list or action register. This includes such information as: the problem, date identified, who is working on the problem, priority, timeframe for completion, and follow up measurement on the changes made. This is a living document that chronicles the activity of the team, and is a basis for continuous improvement.

No Plant is an Island
What if your team can’t come up with a solution? There a lot of resources available at little or no cost. Do you know someone at another plant? Most problems are not new ones, and have likely been solved by someone, somewhere some time. Whether its slippery floors, stunner maintenance, lighting or noise distractions, animal-handling issues are great opportunities to network with others. That connection may provide a future opportunity for you to provide help to another plant.

There are also useful online resources. Temple Grandin’s website (www.grandin.com) is the motherlode of practical information about animal handling. The AMIF website, (www.animalhandling.org) contains the 2010 AMI Animal Handling Guidelines. Chapter 4 of the guidelines contains a good list of troubleshooting tips. Both of these sites provide links to other helpful websites.

Industry associations are also good resources. Likely your plant belongs to a group such as the AMI, NMA, AAMP, NAMP and many others. These organizations can help you find the right person to help you with the problem. If you don’t know how to contact them, ask your supervisor or plant manager.

Most consultants are ready to answer simple questions over the phone questions without asking for a fee or contract. During my career working on the plant floor, I was always amazed when one of our herdsman or internal auditors reported that they had called Dr. Grandin with a question or problem. She not only returned their call, but suggested troubleshooting ideas. I have always been amazed by her accessibility.

“Manu Tenere”-It’s in Your Hands!
The activity of maintaining facilities and equipment isn’t just the responsibility of the “maintenance” department . “Manu Tenere”—the ancient Latin words for maintenance literally means “to hold in (your) hands. ” This means that the type of maintenance that contributes to animal well-being is everyone’s responsibility. We figuratively hold the animal welfare process in our collective hands, putting the “human” into humane handling.

Maintenance is effective when there is a process that delivers the right information for continuous improvement in the livestock handling area of the plant. When there is a team and a process around maintaining the livestock handling area, good maintenance will contribute to animal well-being in your plant.

With a background of working in various production roles for 30 years, from floor cleaner to plant general manager, Jerry is the owner of Karczewski Consulting (www.diversecattle.com) providing humane handling and plant operations services, with a focus on cull dairy cattle. Contact Jerry by e-mail at jerry_karczewski@live.com, or at 262-490-8293.