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A handling system great for cattle and people

Animal Health with Roy Lewis: Easy access and plenty of room for larger animals

I have many “aha” moments when working cattle with producers. One involved working with a new custom-designed laneway system by Rosewillow Manufacturing of Spruce Grove, Alta., which in my books is proving to be a worthwhile investment. I could not find one thing I would improve.

The design provides enough room for cattle to easily stand in the chute but also has slides or dividers available if separation is needed.

For me, the width of the handling equipment is the key design feature. At 32 inches wide it can easily handle both very large bulls and heavily pregnant, low-statured cows. Those are the ones that can give us problems when pregnancy-checking late in gestation, or if giving the scour vaccines to these same heavily pregnant cows. Chute width is critical as the last thing we need is a cow or large bull getting stuck. I have over the years smeared mineral oil over the sides of alleyways, crossed my fingers and hoped and prayed the animal slides through.

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With narrow-width handling systems, the animal’s size has to be considered. The body (carcass) size of feedlot animals is getting bigger and it can even be a challenge getting moderate-framed cattle through some chutes and laneways. I have been in some operations where we needed to be proactive and peel off extremely big cattle because they wouldn’t fit through the system. It requires some judgment calls, and can also result in downtime.

For example, one farm was using cattle handling equipment often touted as the Cadillac system in the U.S. We found it was good, but not perfect. Even when the adjustable alleys were set as wide as they could go, several cattle got stuck. After one experience of trying to process 200 larger cows, the owner was leaning toward pulling the system out. This system may work great for most cattle, but for larger cows and heavier finished feedlot cattle it needs wider alleyways.

The Rosewillow alley system had sliders (dividers), which can be pulled open and stay open until closed. That’s a good feature as many sliders have a tendency to wiggle shut. Depending on how level the setup, they can be shut too easily. Sliders need to stay open until they are needed. That’s particularly important when handling bison. The only real way to get bison separated is with sliding gates. The Rosewillow alley system could be modified for bison but would need to be closed in more.

After doing 700 head at this farm the cattle actually fed into the chute pretty much by themselves off a tub system. Only occasionally did we need to go back to the tub area to get cattle sorted out. With the design, most livestock can actually look over the top of both sides of the system, which is why they move along so well. They see the humans working on the inside of this semi-circular type system.

Keep handling equipment clean

A four-inch opening at the bottom of the handling system, as well as being open on the sides, greatly facilitates cleaning and even sorting. The sun and warm air will dry out manure or melt the ice and snow in winter. The biggest problem with some other systems is that they are very difficult to clean, and snow and ice accumulate if the handling systems are not under cover.

I always try and leave the system the way I found it. If it is clean when I arrived, I try to make sure it is clean when I leave. This helps with biosecurity maintenance and longevity of the equipment. There is nothing worse than trying to get a hydraulic chute full of frozen manure running properly.

Keeping equipment clean also applies to cattle trailers and liners. There is no time like the present, just after unloading the cattle, to clean trucks and trailers. We are fortunate in the Canadian cattle industry that we don’t have many highly infectious diseases spread in the manure. However, we perhaps could all raise our standards when it comes to trailer cleanliness especially when hauling cattle of different owners.

The one other great feature about the Rosewillow system is the doors allow access to get an animal out. With this system I don’t believe an animal would get stuck or wedged in the alleyway. If it does go down it might be more a case of it being weak or suffering from some toxicity.

Retrieving downers

Any experienced cattleman will tell you about those wrecks where one animal went down in a handling system. I used to shudder at all the cement systems in some lots. Often I would see where a section of poured concrete was knocked out and replaced with steel panel. That told me they had a downer and couldn’t access it any other way other than to tear out the wall of the handling system. That’s an expensive and time-consuming operation with the life of the down animal is in the balance. With the Rosewillow system you could easily get a rope halter over an animal’s head and with a couple of ropes gently get the animal up and out and treat it from there. As I mentioned the alleyway is designed so each section will open on both sides. Also, I liked the fact that the sides of the handling equipment are straight with no tapered width near the bottom. I am not sure how the tapered design started years ago, but I find it is a design aspect that makes cattle uncomfortable and try and climb out.

The producer had installed this system on rough brushed concrete flooring. Cattle found good footing with no slipping, tripping or falling. The alley system only has a few cross struts. Because we were just pregnancy-checking this group and using a hydraulic chute, we just squeezed the cattle without catching their heads.

Overall, a new improved alley system like this facilitates easier cattle movement with less labour and virtually no animal welfare issues. This system is the next improvement for the larger cow-calf, purebred or feedlot producer. It is the next advancement in improving labour, animal welfare and biosecurity all at once.

If anyone is looking to build new or upgrade a handling system remember to check out Growing Forward or other assistance programs to see if grant dollars are available.

Rosewillow Manufacturing is a father and son operation, Darcy and Trey Zaft, located in Spruce Grove, Alta. They can custom design cattle handling equipment along with gates, wind panels and other components. For more information email [email protected] or phone: 780-963-8128 or 780-968-8811.

About the author

Columnist

Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.

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