Improved working conditions for employees and more comfort for cattle were two goals Ellis County Feeders established for its new processing and loadout facilities. Part of a continuing series on animal handling.

When Ellis County Feeders replaced its receiving/loadout and processing facilities, staff expected an improvement in procedures. They just didn't know how good things would get.

Bill Saba, manager of the 30,000-head Hays, KS, feedyard says the old facility could accommodate about 100 head an hour, or just under one head per minute. Today, the processing crew runs about four head per minute through the completely redesigned system.

"Our old setup was inadequate and completely worn out," Saba says. "We remodeled it once, but it didn't help cattle move through any faster."

Similar results are achieved in the loading area, too. It used to take 20-30 minutes to load a truck. Now it's done in eight to 10 minutes.

Getting Started Constructed in 1991, Saba says the biggest challenge was determining a location. The feedyard is hilly and finding the flattest ground proved to be a challenge. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University and Grandin Livestock Systems, Fort Collins, CO, actually selected the location and designed plans for both setups.

"With projects like this, it pays to get outside help," Saba says. "It saves on mistakes and redos, holding costs down as much as possible. We selected Temple's services because of her practical approach to moving cattle and design."

Grandin consulted with Saba before developing systems that fit the sorting and processing needs of Ellis County.

The loadout setup includes solid side panels and round crowd pens. Alleys leading to the processing area are curved in an "S" formation and also have solid side panels.

"Temple stressed making the building in our processing area small," Saba says. "We built everything according to her specifications, including covering the chute into the processing building. The smaller building is easier to heat, too."

This included pouring a 4-ft. stemwall, topped with steel siding. The entire area, including entries and exits, is completely covered with concrete.

"This was well worth the initial investment, just in cleaning alone," Saba says. "There's almost no maintenance and cleaning is a snap."

He adds that Grandin's plans and recommendations about lighting caused them to reconsider where doors and windows were placed in the processing building.

Grandin specified the materials used in construction though Saba hired a contractor to perform the work."It helps using a contractor that knows cattle. He can pick the right strength of materials and adjust plans for the materials available in our area," Saba says.

Results Add Up To Big Benefits The newness has worn off, but the effects of loading, unloading, processing and reimplanting haven't. Saba says the benefits of improved handling go far beyond speed and efficiency.

"Working conditions for employees have improved as has cattle comfort," Saba says. "Using Temple's training and recommendations, our whole crew has become more aware of what scares cattle. There was a time when we probably had a lot of invisible injuries, such as bruises to the cattle. We've decreased these injuries substantially with this system.

"We've adapted as we've gone along with the system," he adds. "We've tweaked here and there, but we're still doing things more efficiently.

"Everything now works together," Saba says. "We've got great flowability without exposing personnel and animals. Plus, we've reduced our risk of injury significantly."

Building anything new isn't cheap, but Saba says the investment in construction based on cattle handling has been worth it. The package included a 25-ft. x 35-ft. insulated building with a 4-ft. stem wall, five receiving/shipping pens, three processing pens, all pipe construction and cemented surfaces. The cost hit $11/head as total cost was slightly more than $220,000.

For additional information about cattle handling systems, see BEEF, May, 1998, or Grandin's website at www.grandin.com.