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CHAPTER 5: Handling of livestock


General principles
Handling in crowd pens and races
Flight zone and point of balance (Fig. 11)
Designs of handling facilities

General principles

The first principle of animal handling is to avoid getting the animal excited. It takes up to 30 minutes for an animal to calm down and its heart rate to return to be normal after rough handling. Calm animals move more easily and are less likely to bunch and be difficult to remove from a pen. Handlers should move with slow, deliberate movements and refrain from yelling.

Animals may become agitated when they are isolated from others. If an isolated animal becomes agitated, other animals should be put in with it. Electric prodders (prods) should be used as little as possible or only on stubborn animals. However it is more humane and causes less damage to give an animal a mild electric shock than to hit it with a stick or twist its tail. Battery-operated prods (Fig. 6) are preferred to mains-current operated ones (Fig. 7). The voltage used should not exceed 32 V and never be used on sensitive parts such as eyes, muzzle, anus and vulva.

Fig. 6: A battery-operated electric prodder

Fig. 7: Mains-current operated electric prodder (not recommended)

Instead of prods, other droving aids should be used such as flat straps (Fig. 8), rolled-up plastic or newspaper, sticks with flags on or panels1 for pigs. Hesitant animals can often be enticed into pens or vehicles by first leading in a tame animal and the others will follow.

1 Panels for droving pigs are boards made of solid material, such as wood, plastic etc. of approx. 1-m square which are held by the drover to block the vision and movement of pigs and so guide its direction. Without such boards, it would be impossible to drove pigs in the convenient way using flags, rolled paper, branches and waving hands as for sheep and cattle.
Fig. 8: Flat strap for droving livestock

Ostriches are particularly nervous and should be approached cautiously. They have a vicious forward kick. Tame birds can be led quietly by handlers (Fig. 9). A shepherds crook (Fig. 10) around the neck is a useful leading aid or placing a hood over the head will make the bird more docile.

Fig. 9: Leading tame ostriches to the stunning area

Fig. 10: Shepherds crook used to assist leading ostriches

Handling in crowd pens and races

Overloading the crowd pen is one of the most common animal handling mistakes. The crowd pen and the alley that leads to it from the yard should be only half filled. Handlers must also be careful not to force animals to move by using crowd gates. Animals should walk up the race without being forcibly pushed. If they are pushed up too tightly with a crowding gate, handling becomes more difficult. Tightly packed animals are unable to turn around to enter the race. If animals refuse to enter the single file race, they may be hesitating because of a distraction ahead, such as a moving person.

Flight zone and point of balance (Fig. 11)

An animal’s flight zone is the animal’s safety zone and handlers should work on the edge of the flight zone. If an animal turns and faces a person, the person is outside the flight zone. When a person enters the flight zone, an animal will turn away. If an animal in a pen or race becomes agitated when a person stands too close to them, this indicates that the person is in the flight zone and should move backwards away from them. The installation of solid sides on races (Fig. 12) and stunning boxes (Fig. 25) will help calm animals because they provide a barrier between the animals and people who approach too closely. The flight zone size depends on how wild or tame the animal is. Animals with a flighty temperament will have a larger flight zone. Animals that live in close contact with people have a smaller flight zone than animals that seldom see people. An excited animal will have a larger flight zone than a calm one. A completely tame animal has no flight zone and may be difficult to drive.

Fig. 11: Flight zone and point of balance

Fig. 12: Curved cattle race with solid sides

To make an animal move forward, the handler must be behind the point of balance at the shoulder. To get the animal to move backwards, the handler must stand in front of the point of balance. Figure 13 illustrates handler movement patterns, which make it possible to reduce the use of electric prods or goads. Cattle, sheep or pigs will move forward in a race when a handler passes by the animal in the opposite direction of the desired animal movement. The handler must move quickly in order to pass the point of balance at the shoulder to make the animal move forward. The animal will not move forward until the handler passes the shoulder and reaches its hips.

Fig. 13: Handler movement pattern to keep cattle moving into a squeeze chute or restrainer

Cattle will move forward when the handler passes the point of balance at the shoulder of each animal. The handler walks in the opposite direction along side the single file race.

Designs of handling facilities

The risk of injury and stress during handling of livestock can be high, causing financial loss to producer, transporter and slaughterhouse. Examples are poorly designed pen fencing (Fig. 14), too low or unstable loading ramps, exposure of livestock to heat and intensive sunshine (Fig. 19). Properly designed and constructed facilities on farms, at auction yards and slaughter houses (Fig. 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21) etc. will contribute significantly towards the safe handling of livestock, thereby reducing the risk of injuries and stress to animals and workers alike.

Fig. 14: Poor designed fencing

Fig. 15: Well-constructed pens/platform for offloading and holding cattle

Fig. 16: Ramp for pigs and off-loading platform for vehicles leading to holding pens for pigs

Fig. 17: Holding pens for livestock awaiting slaughter

Pens-Livestock pens on farms, feedlots, auction yards and slaughterhouses should have sufficient space for the animals to be able to lie down (Table 1, Fig. 17, 18).

TABLE 1. Required floor space (m2) per head of livestock for different species

Cattle

loose

2.0-2.8

tied

3.0

Pigs

baconers/small porker

0.6

sow

0.9

Calves/sheep

-

0.7

Ostriches

-

0.9


Bulls and boars should be individually penned, and if tied, they should be able to lie down. Water must be easily available. Troughs should be high enough or protected to prevent animals from falling in and drowning. In cold climates, pens should have walls and roofs to protect animals from weather stress. In the tropics, a roof is necessary for holding pens to protect stock, particularly pigs, from heat stroke and sunburn. Water sprays in the pig pens are useful to cool pigs down (Fig. 18). In open pens without roof and shade, even free-range cattle may suffer (Fig. 19). Ostrich pens can be partially enclosed to make them darker as this keeps the animals more docile (Fig. 20).

Fig. 18: Nozzle for water spray to cool down pigs

Fig. 19: Open pens - No shade

Fig. 20: Enclosed ostrich pens to create darker conditions

Fig. 21: Smooth tubular rails for pen partitions

Partitions-Rails made of tubular iron (Fig. 20), wood or concrete (Fig. 21, 22) should be smooth and without projections such as hinges, broken ends or wire. Spaces should be adjusted to prevent animals from getting through or stuck and injuring themselves (Table 2).

TABLE 2. Rail distances and heights for different species


Rail distances

Rail height

Cattle

20 cm apart

Top rail 1.5 m high

Sheep/goat

15 cm apart

Top rail 0.9 m high

Pigs

15 cm apart

Top rail 0.9 m high

Ostriches

20 cm apart

Top rail 1.5 m high


Floors (Fig. 22, 23)-Pen floors should be non-slip and have a gradient of not more than 1:10. If animals slip, this causes bruises, fractures, dislocations and/or skin damage. Concrete floors should have patterns engraved, or covered in mesh to provide traction, at the same time facilitating cleaning. Failing this flat stone will suffice.

Fig. 22: Tubular rails and concrete walls for pen partition, non-slip concrete floor

Fig. 23: Non slip concrete pen floor partition

Raceways-Lanes are necessary for animals to walk or be led on/off vehicles and platforms into holding pens or slaughter facilities etc. Races should be narrow enough so that animals cannot turn around or get wedged beside each other. This results in animals becoming injured, if they panic or are manhandled. Race width for cattle should be approximately 76 cm, depending on breed and size (Fig. 24, 25, 26, 27).

Where possible, raceways should be curved to facilitate animal movement (Fig. 12). Slaughterhouse and pre-stunning races should have solid sides to prevent animals balking.

Ramps and platforms-Both these structures are necessary for loading and unloading livestock from transport vehicles or walking them to slaughter facilities. Ramps should have cross slating or steps (10 cm high x 30 cm deep) to facilitate walking and prevent slipping. The ramp should be sloped at an angle of 20 degrees or less (Fig. 15, 16).

Fig. 24: Raceway for cattle from holding pens to stunning area

Fig. 25: One cattle waiting at the end of raceway in front of stunning box, another cattle staying in stunning box

Fig. 26: Pigs from holding pens entering the raceway to slaughterhouse

Fig. 27: Raceway for pigs to stunning area


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