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Temple Grandin is American but she speaks the language of cattle the world over.
A professor of animal science, her pioneering studies of livestock behavior have revolutionised animal movement systems and have led to more humane and efficient cattle production systems across the globe.
In a keynote address to the Australian Lot Feeders Association’s BeefWorks conference at Kerwee Feedlot west of Toowoomba yesterday, Dr Grandin urged Australian cattle producers to measure their handling systems to prevent ‘bad from becoming normal’.
“I am a big believer in measuring handling,” she said.
“I do a workshop then come back a year later and people are yelling and screaming again and they have got the electric jiggers out and the problem is they haven’t measured handling.
“You manage what you measure, this is something that I really want to push.
“We measure things, and it prevents bad from becoming normal, because people switch back into old bad handling practice and they don’t realise it – the yelling and screaming comes back slowly, the jigger use comes back slowly, more cattle are running out of the squeeze chute instead of walking, more cattle are vocalising – we don’t want to let bad become normal.”
Outcomes she recommends cattle operations measure include how many cattle fall during handling, how many times an electric jigger is used (‘never’ should be the answer, she advises), whether cattle walk in and out of a squeeze chute or become agitated and vocalise, and whether cattle show evidence of ‘eye white’ which was a further sign of stress.
“You have to figure out what is the really important thing to measure and then you can measure am I getting better or getting worse?,” she said.
Guidelines should also be clear and specific, and not rely upon vague terms such as like ‘properly’, ‘adequate’, ‘sufficient’ or ‘relevant’ to define outcomes.
“What does it mean to say you gave animals sufficient space? I like clear guidelines like this: “All the animals have to have enough space so they can all lay down at the same time and not be on top of each other” That is clear.”
In addition to improved animal welfare outcomes, better handling systems were better for the bottom line, she said.
Her research has shown that cattle that are allowed to become agitated in the squeeze chute typically gain less weight.
Ten tips for improving animal handling:
Dr Grandin shared several basic principals of cattle handling with yesterday’s audience including:
Calm animals are easier to handle: “I cannot emphasise that enough, once you get them all excited it takes them 20 minutes to calm back down. How can we tell if an animal is calm? A calm animal will have nice soft brown eyes, that is actually a scientifically validated measure.” Telltale signs of fearful behaviour were
tail swishing, eye white, heads up, ears pinned back, and pooping. “People get way to aggressive when handling cattle, there should be no yelling or screaming, calm down.”
Watch for the ‘little things’: Small objects or sounds that people may not notice such as a chain hanging down, a coat over a fence or a plastic bag can scare cattle. Dr Grandin said four feedlots she visited in Australia this week employed air-operated gates. The newer and well-maintained systems made no noise, but at one facility the gates made a hissing noise because the muffler system had not been maintained and had been thrown away rather than replaced. “This gets back to details of procedure,” she said.
Changes in flooring and light can also cause animals to block:. “Going from a dirt floor to a raised metal floor can make cattle stop. The direction of a facility can have an effect. "Animals are not going to want to head straight into the blinding sun. Animals will leave a dark place to go into a bright place, but they don’t like blinding light, and they don’t like black holes. Get down in your race ways and see what the animals are seeing.”
Solid outside and inside walls are recommended in curved round handling systems: Dr Grandin said it was important to have a solid side wall on the outer perimeter. If the inner radius was open, it was important that people did not stand where cattle could see them. If you’re wondering why cattle are jumping around in the race, they’re jumping around because you’re in their flight zone. Back up and get away from them and they’ll stop jumping around". She said block gates and crowd pen gates should also be solid.
Understand animal flight zones: “When we really need to respect that flight zone is when the animals are lined up in that race, you need to back up and get away from it and then you enter that area only when you want to move them."
Full half circles in curved race design: “You want to come on around a full half circle, because cattle have a natural tendency to go back to where they come from”.
Don’t overcrowd crowd pens:. The big mistake people make is moving cattle in too big a bunch, you want to move small bunch. Use your following behavior, wait until there is space in a single file race, and then you bring those 10 cattle up and they just come right up around the race. We need to rename crowd pens of every type of design to “passing through” pens. If a single file race if full, and you bring cattle up there, they’re going to turn around on you and then they’re going to be harder to get out of the crowd pen.
Looking with ears: Take notice of what are the animals’ ears doing, what are they 'looking' at?
Ease the squeeze: “I’m very concerned about too much pressure on some of these squeeze chutes. They have very large hydraulic pumps. When you push that lever the squeeze chute should automatically stop before it gets too tight. If I can’t get jam my hand between the bars and the cow that is way too tight… If an animal moos when it was caught then you are hurting them and it needs to get fixed. That was one thing I saw yesterday that I was not happy about.”
Open the door on animal welfare: “We need to communicate with the general public. Ag in the United States has not done a very good job of that. They passed an ag gag law, so if someone takes a picture that’s a felony. Well that’s not a very good approach and in the Op Ed page in the New York Times that will look really really super bad. When you get trashed you need to be opening the door, and one of the ways you need to do that is with video. I’m at the point right now where I’d like to see live video feeds to web pages, showing the induction centre at the feed yard and meat plants. When you get bashed, you need to be opening the door, not closing it.”