Injuries in stockyards are a major cause of lost productivity and can keep livestock producers and their staff away from work for weeks at a time.
In fact a study by the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP) found that more than 21,000 working weeks were lost due to injury in the mixed farming sector over a four year period to 2012.
Animal welfare and livestock handling consultant Boyd Holden stresses that preparation, planning and understanding livestock behaviour are the keys to avoiding injuries in stockyards
Based in northern New South Wales, Mr Holden has provided training in safe livestock handling for 10 years to workers in the live export industry and for sheep and cattle producers across the country.
“Good stockmanship is not new, and most people know exactly what they should do to avoid injury in the yards, but sometimes these things just slip your mind when you are in a hurry, so good prior preparation is the key to making sure everything goes smoothly,” Mr Holden said.
Here are eight important tips Mr Holden has for avoiding injury and staying safe while working livestock:
1. Ensure handling infrastructure is well maintained
This includes repairing gate latches and hinges, removing loose timber and wire, and in cattle yards, making sure the crush is well greased and working properly.
2. Ensure livestock are settled before working them
“It’s good practise to rest livestock for 30 minutes or an hour before you take them into the yards so they are settled. Walking livestock to the yards will also help with keeping them calm and will make them easier to handle.”
3. Don’t overfill yards, especially small ones
“If you end up with all bottoms looking at you, the animals are telling you there are too many, they are confused or too much pressure is being applied to them. It’s difficult to influence animals when they are too tight in the yards and they are more likely to injure you and hurt each other.”
4. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good crush
“An essential piece of equipment in cattle yards is a good crush. This is important for your safety and the welfare of the cattle. A good addition to the crush is getting a head lifter which will make it safer for the handler.”
5. Don’t use gates to push animals
Mr Holden says some of the most common causes of injury happen when gates are used to push cattle and can then be kicked back on people, when people carry out health procedures in a race, or when arms and hands are slammed between rails.
“To avoid injuries like this, absolutely never use a gate to push animals into a yard, and don’t slide a rail or piece of wood into the race behind animals to hold them.”
6. Base yard design on stock ratios
Design helps, and good yards are usually in ratios. For example, if you can fit eight animals in the race, the forcing yard should hold 16 but not be filled to more than eight, and so on.
“Good yards allow animals to flow through easily and minimise baulking. Good handling practices and well designed yards assist with efficiency in the yards along with improving animal welfare and reducing risks to workers.”
7. Cull on temperament
“If any animal gives you trouble and is dangerous in the yards, then producers should look at the implications and consider culling if required.”
8. Children and livestock
Mr Holden says yards are no place for young children or visitors. If they do have to be there, it’s a good idea to train them in a basic job like operating a sliding gate where they are separated from the animals and can be supervised. You should also explain to them the risks associated with handling cattle in the yards.
Source: Primary Industries Health & Safety Partnership. More information on animal handling and safety in yards can be found in the below video featuring Mr Holden, which has been produced by Meat & Livestock Australia, Livecorp and the Department of Agriculture.
The Partnership is funded by the Research and Development Corporations for the meat processing, cotton, grains and livestock industries as well as the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. For more information, visit www.rirdc.gov.au/PIHSP