Chute design can make it difficult to vie injections in the neck. Temple Grandin shares some strategies.
Everyone knows injections should be given in the neck to prevent damage to the meat. Research has shown that the damaging effects of injections in the meat are long lasting.
Unfortunately, the design of some squeeze chutes makes it difficult to inject an animal in the neck. The biggest problem is neck extender bars on the head gate, that position the animal too far forward for workers to access the neck.
Some producers believe neck extender bars are essential to hold an animal's head still for implanting. That's not true. Neck extenders aren't necessary.
If a calf is handled quietly when he is brought into the squeeze chute, he can easily be backed up in the head gate. In this position, he can not wave his head around. On most squeeze chutes, when the animal is backed up so the head gate bar is positioned right behind its jaw, the neck will be located at the first drop down bar on the squeeze side.
Crunching the animal's jaw or eye in the neck extender bars is the wrong way to get it in the correct position. It can cause injuries. Even if it does not injure the animal, it is likely to cause soreness. An animal with a sore jaw may cut its feed consumption.
Feedlots that have worked hard to handle cattle quietly are being rewarded with animals that go on feed more quickly. One feedlot manager reported a 99% perfect implant rate when his crew caught the animals with the neck extender around the jaw. They would probably get better weight gain if they took the neck extender off.
Crunching the jaw and face causes many animals to bellow. Our research has shown that cattle that become agitated in the squeeze chute have significantly lower weight gain.
Another advantage of calm cattle is they defecate less. Cattle that defecate less will have cleaner ears. This will help improve implant retention rates and reduce infection in the ears.
Try A Settle-Down Period Cattle will be quieter and easier to move through the chutes to the squeeze if they're allowed to settle down for 15-20 minutes after they've been brought into a corral on a ranch or brought up to the holding pens near the work area at a feedlot.
During this time, the crew can get equipment and vaccines ready. The animals must not be left waiting in the tub (crowd pen) or single file chute during this period.
Here are some ways to keep the cattle calm:
* Fill the crowd pen half full. Animals need room to turn.
* Replace electric prods with flags and paddle sticks. The electric prod should sit on the vaccine table and only be used on cattle that refuse to enter the squeeze.
* Chutes with solid sides or angled rubber louvres help keep cattle calm.
* Avoid yelling and whistling. Canadian researchers Joe Stookey and Jeffrey Rushen have found that yelling is frightening and stressful to cattle.
* Remove distractions such as a dangling loose chains that create noise and cause balking.
* Remember, cattle don't like to enter dark places. Cattle movement inside a building will often be improved by opening more doors or adding translucent white plastic wall panels to admit light.
People manage what they measure. Keep score on how cattle behave while being handled. Animals should walk in and walk out of the squeeze chute. This will provide the added advantage of preventing injuries to the shoulder and neck.
Keep score on the percentage of cattle that moo and bellow in the squeeze chute. Data collected at both feedlots and packing plants indicates that when cattle are handled quietly, only 3% or less will vocalize during movement through the chutes and when they are held in a restrainer or squeeze chute.
Keep score on electric prod use. A reasonable goal is to move 99% of the cattle without an electric prod.
Double-Sided Squeeze Works Best The best squeeze chutes apply pressure from both sides. A chute that squeezes on only one side has a tendency to throw the animal off balance. Cattle often stand more quietly in a chute which squeezes on both sides, making it easier to make the animal back up to restrain the head.
The chute must also have a non-slip floor. Cattle tend to panic when they lose their footing.
To avoid injuries to cattle and people, the pressure in hydraulic chutes must be set correctly. A properly adjusted hydraulic chute should be set to stop squeezing at a reasonable pressure.
Look at the animal, it should not be grunting or straining. If the animal moos or bellows when the squeeze is applied, it is too tight. You should be able to get your hand between the side bars and the animal. If the animal is bulging out of the side bars it's too tight.
When a calm animal enters a squeeze chute you will be amazed that very little pressure is required to hold it.
Injuries can also be reduced if the operator slows the animal down in the squeeze before it reaches the headgate. However, greater emphasis should be put on how the people bring the cattle up to the squeeze chute. If you fix the handling in the back, the handling in the squeeze chute will fix itself.
On chutes with a hydraulic-powered device to restrain the head, the pressure setting also should be very low. You should be able to hold the device and stop it from moving when the control valve is held down and the valve is bypassing hydraulic fluid back to the reservoir.
All types of hydraulic devices for holding the head must be on a separate valve with its own pressure relief valve. This can be set independently from the rest of the chute. The pressure can be set extremely low and the animal will not be able to move the device after the operator lets go of the control valve. When the operator lets go, the valve centers and fluid movement in the hydraulic system is blocked.
If you are planning on purchasing a new hydraulic chute, the quieter chutes are recommended. Even some of the less expensive chutes are now available with a quieter pump and motor.
Temple Grandin is an assistant professor of livestock handling and behavior at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. Visit her Web site at www.grandin.com