Spring cattle herd health procedures can be labor intensive,
stressful, and in many cases dangerous. Now is an ideal time to
review your handling facility design and condition. Good handling
facility design, and handling techniques can reduce the stress
and danger to both the cattlemen and cattle.
Handling facility design has changed over the past two decades.
One of the most significant improvements has been the introduction
of curved solidly-enclosed crowding areas and chutes, taking advantage
of cattle's instinct to escape from confinement. Using a curved
crowding area and working chute takes advantage of cattle's tendency
to circle away from perceived danger. The solid sides of the crowding
area limits cattle's vision, controlling distractions and focusing
them on the desired "escape" route. The working chute
entrance offers a "false escape" route for the cattle
from the crowding area. Once in the solid sided working chute,
the cattle can not see the squeeze chute until they are at the
rear gates of the chute. This helps keep the cattle remain calmer
and reduces balking. The solid sides on the crowding area and
chutes have the advantage of the cattle's limited eyesight. The
animals see the walls as "solid walls" and are less
likely to "test" them as a possible escape route. If
the cattle can see through an opening, they are likely to try
to make an escape route out of it when pressured.
Many older facilities can be improved by adding solid sides to
existing crowding and working areas. Attaching used mine belting
or thin gauge metal sheeting are examples of ways to enclose existing
facilities. Remember to attach the material so it does not flop
or make banging noise. Either of these could result in increased
In addition to good facilities, calm, methodical handling techniques
can make a big difference in the stress level and dangers of working
cattle. Avoid loud noises and sudden movements when working with
cattle. Be patient, move slowly and deliberately around livestock.
This will help keep the cattle calm and they will move easier.
Remember it only takes seconds to agitate an animal, it will take
around 40 minutes for the animal to completely calm back down.
When working with animals in the working chute, walk along the
walkway from the front to the back to move animals forward. The
animal will see you coming and not be startled. Then as you pass,
the animal's natural tendency will be to move forward away
from you. As for cattle behavior, any cow or bull identified,
as easily agitated, or overly aggressive toward handlers should
be culled immediately.
Several resources are available to help area producers design
and build better corrals. Two Midwest Plan Service publications,
which provide component design recommendations and total system
layout examples, are available for order from your local University
of Illinois Extension office: "Modern Corral Design"
(OKE 938) and "Corrals for Handling Beef Cattle" (CAN723).