Maintaining animal handling equipment avoids frustration
Fall is when many beef cattle are handled using on-farm chutes, alleys, and pens. Maintaining animal handling equipment will improve the animal handling experience.
It is frustrating to work in a system where fingers are pinched and hands smashed, gate latches don’t stay closed, chain clasps don’t fasten, and cattle are balking, escaping, or getting bruised. Take some time and walk your system to experience what the cattle are exposed to and fix problem areas. Make all equipment safe and easy for you to use and cattle to navigate.
Begin by using a scrapper and stiff brush to clean and inspect all the surfaces the cattle are exposed to. Remove as much dried manure as possible as it may harbor contagious microorganisms including foot rot, hairy heel wart, and ringworm. Not only that, but manure and urine are caustic to metal and wood. Once removed, you will see just how rusty or deteriorated the gate or alley sections are, and that they may need repair or replacing.
Use caution when power washing, as doing so will aerosolize and further contaminate the area. Using a brush with soap and water or a foaming device would decrease aerosolization of pathogens. Ideally, the equipment is cleaned immediately after use when deposits are moist and easier to remove. Replace or repair surfaces with sharp or bent edges that may cut skin or bruise cattle.
Lubricate, repair, or replace all hinges or mountings so gates easily swing. Dragging gates is tiresome and causes sore shoulder and back muscles. Repair or replace broken or crushed chains, fasteners, and gate latches. Fasteners should be quick and easy to use. Cattle will test them, so they must stay fastened!
Lubricate head catch joints so they seamlessly open and close. Pad with rubber (old tire innertubes can work) or carpet as needed to reduce the noises made by the head catch.
Cattle have approximately 310 degrees of vision due to the eye placement on either side of their head, but that vision is monocular. Each side of their view is seen with one eye; only a small overlapping portion right in front of them is visualized with both eyes. This lack of binocular vision reduces their depth perception. They simply are not physically equipped to determine the depth of a pothole or shadow. To reduce balking, stumbling, and potential injury, add sand, lime, or other material to fill in holes or rough spots, thereby creating a non-slip walking surface with a uniform consistency.
Add solid panels to eliminate distractions outside the alleys and holding pens that cause cattle to baulk. Solid panels created by tarps or bags must be fastened tightly so they don’t flap and distract cattle. Add overhead lights to reduce the number of shadows the cattle see in the alleys and pens as they walk through the holding pens, bud box or tub, alley, and chute.
Maintained equipment works better, lasts longer and is safer to use. Add chute maintenance to your list, just as you do with oil changes and tire and engine inspections of your truck and tractor or greasing the hay bine. Flow will improve and you will have a much more rewarding experience working cattle.
Stuttgen is Associate Professor & Senior Outreach Specialist of the Agriculture Institute, UW-Madison Division of Extension Taylor County