As a feedyard manager, Warren White knows the value of preconditioning and low-stress cattle handling. Healthy calves are simply more valuable to a feedyard than high-risk calves. And he's seen the value of source verification, especially for calves bound for a niche marketing program.

As a rancher, White knows the value of preconditioning and low-stress cattle handling. Healthy calves are simply more valuable to a rancher than high-risk calves. And he's seen the value of source verification, especially for calves bound for a niche marketing program.

Notice the similarity? White did, and while necessity may be the mother of invention, convenience is its sister. White brought the two together when he invented an in-pasture processing trailer that enables him to take the doctoring and processing to the cattle instead of vice versa.

Hence the name of the processing equipment, MobilCattle Doc, a cattle-handing system used by White and other cow-calf and stocker operators in four states.

The processing trailer is one of several beneficial cattle handling systems on the market to help producers and feeders ease the burden of processing — on both them and the cattle.

White made his first MobilCattle Doc in 2001. It was used primarily at Mc6 Cattle Feeders, a commercial yard he manages in Hereford, TX.

The advantages were many. He could position the trailer in the alley behind any pen, then run cattle through one door, through the processing chute for shots, re-implants and other treatments, then back into the pen. There was less labor needed and cattle were less stressed.

“We reduced our labor needs because there was less sorting by cowboys,” White says. “There was no co-mingling of cattle since cattle weren't driven to the hospital. It was just easier on the cattle and people doing the processing.”

Pasture unit

White carried the original idea to the next step, a less-bulky, in-pasture unit that can be bought or leased by producers. He also moved a MobilCattle Doc to his family's ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills near Brewster. Since then, 15 units have been custom-manufactured for operations in Texas, Kansas and Tennessee.

“Before, we would rotate cattle in pastures so they would end up at the vaccinating facility,” White says. “But that's not always feasible.

“With this unit, we take the facility to the cows. We process calves in the pasture. It improves our ability to maintain a good preconditioning program. And it really enhances our goals of proving source and age verification in our ‘all-natural’ calves.”

Virtually anything that can go in a processing barn can fit into MobilCattle Doc, which measures 24-ft. long, 8-ft. wide and 8-ft. tall. Standard equipment includes a water source, sink, sorting gate, lights and a generator with hydraulics to operate a chute.

The basic unit costs about $29,000. Optional equipment can include any type of squeeze chute or scales on the market. “We've produced units with a $5,000 chute up to a $15,000 chute,” White notes.

A portable refrigerator to store medicines, a hot water heater and special fold-out panels on the sides to provide more space can be included in the unit. The gooseneck trailer can be pulled with a ¾-ton pickup or tractor. The hydraulics enable it to be lowered for usage, then raised for travel on a road or highway.

A fully equipped unit will average about $40,000. That may sound high, but compared to about $60,000 or more to build a processing barn, it seems reasonable.

White says the portable processing system could work well for a sale barn or cooperative situation among producers. “That could help some justify the cost,” he says, “and provide a means of in-pasture processing for many different entities.”

White's ranch operation saw about a $50/head premium on the sale of calves from his primarily Angus herd this spring. That was the premium for source-verified, all-natural calves that averaged 485 lbs. and sold for $133-$149/cwt. over the Western Video Auction.

MobilCattle Doc can't take credit for that, but it did expedite his ability to process calves. “Like more and more producers, we source-verify every animal,” White says. “Consumers and the industry are asking for it.

“With something like this processing unit, the job of putting in ear tags and other ID sources is made much easier. So is reimplanting, vaccinating and other processing.”

Variety of systems

Portability of any type of equipment can depend on the contour of a pasture. Pearson Livestock Equipment, Thedford, NE, markets an adjustable alley that can be mounted to a trailer. It's compatible with both straight and circular working facilities.

Troy Bollins of Pearson says producers like the flexibility of the equipment. “It's portable and adjustable,” he says. “It can be adjusted to fit everything from baby calves up to bulls. Anything ranchers need they can run through it.”

Priefert Ranch Equipment, Mt. Pleasant, TX, also offers a wide line of portable pens. Powder River Livestock Handling Equipment, Provo, UT, and Oklahoma City, has also been providing portable handling systems since the 1930s.

Pat Mallon, a small rancher in Hermiston, OR, and a Powder River rep, says mobile processing equipment helps producers maintain efficient preweaning processing programs. “A lot of it goes back to portability,” Mallon says. “Before, we would process calves at weaning. Now, we can go out a month before weaning for treatments.”

He says the Powder River portable Alley-Bows system enables producers to adjust its width for multiple usage. “I have a 20-ft. alley and can set in up in about 15 minutes,” he says.

The system isn't as elaborate as MobilCattle Doc, but is less expensive. With clearing panels, the cost is about $1,750, making it more suitable for the small operator. Another Powder River system, the Homestead Alley, costs about $1,250.

Lowering the stress

Steve Lewis, a consulting veterinarian in Hereford, TX, says the ability to work cattle in the pasture with proper equipment can lower the potential for stress and other animal health problems.

“Portable, low stress and total restraint for any cattle-health procedure makes the MobilCattle Doc an asset to all levels of beef production,” says Lewis, who has worked cattle using the processing trailer. “More timely administration of products and procedures that benefit the health of cattle can be performed without the disadvantage of not having adequate handling facilities at all cattle production sites.”

Lewis says portability of cattle handling/restraint facilities at the cow-calf pasture, weaning pasture or stocker location minimizes cattle movement stress over long distances.

“Often, inadequate, on-site facilities will delay necessary health procedures until cattle are moved to the next production phase,” he says. “Minimized stress can minimize disease problems and maximize performance.”

For more information on the MobilCattle Doc processing trailer, go to www.mobilcattledoc.com. For information on the other cattle handling systems, go to www.pearsonlivestockeq.com, www.priefert.com or www.powderriver.com. Other regional cattle handling equipment companies may also offer in-pasture processing systems.

Larry Stalcup is a freelance writer based in Amarillo, TX.