The last time you bragged to a colleague about a cattle branding or processing, did you talk about how good a job you did or how many you worked per hour? We suspect it was the latter.

We're as guilty as any of you when it comes to bragging about how many head per hour we can get done. But at what cost does that speed come?

Let's look at implants. Survey data indicates that if you're not training and monitoring implanting quality, your defect rate is likely 10-30%. Meanwhile, estimates of the lost value from improper implanting range up to $50, depending on the defect.

Let's use the low end of the range - $10/defect. If by slowing down a three-person, $10/hour crew from processing 200 head/hour to 100 head, you decrease the implant defect rate from 10% (a low estimate) to 3%, you net $700/1,000 head processed. If you're at a high defect rate - 30%, reducing it to 3% nets $2,700/1,000 head processed.

Head per hour is easy to measure. It's much tougher to measure implant defects, injection site reactions or lameness and injuries. And, if there were means to evaluate other processing events, such as administration of parasite control products and vaccines, the findings might be as shocking as the first implanting reports. Edward's 1987 report, for instance, reported 25% abscessed implant rate in dipped cattle; Hollis' 1989 report showed 33% total problem implants.

The bottom line is don't trip over a dollar picking up a nickel. Make sure you're focusing management where there is value, not where it's easy to measure. Do it right, then think about doing it fast - effectiveness, not efficiency.

One of the success stories at the processing chute has been injection site blemishes. A 1991 audit of top butts (the hip area between the hooks and pins) showed a 34% prevalence of injection scars - 12% of these were fluid-filled lesions. In March 2000, the audit revealed 3% scars with none fluid-filled.

It took vision to recognize this problem and courage to implement what were, at the time, controversial injection recommendations. It also took a huge educational effort to achieve this success.

However, the injection site reaction rate still is not zero. Thus, we need to continue these efforts. Everyone who makes an injection needs to be aware of where and how you administer that injection and of the long-term effects it might have on our ultimate product - high-quality, wholesome beef.

When was the last time you were at a processing and you saw an intramuscular injection made in the rear end of a calf? If you kept silent, you missed an opportunity to improve the cattle industry.

Cattle handling is a critical but sometimes neglected area of processing. For some, the cattle behavioral principles that make for smooth cattle movement and handling are intuitive. For others, there are useful training aids available, such as the cattle handling videotape from the Livestock Conservation Institute (www.lcionline.org).

Understanding and being able to explain concepts such as flight zones, cattle vision and cattle hearing are important not only for new hires, but also for those in training or supervisory roles.

In recent years, a number of processing barns have been constructed that take advantage of cattle behavior principles to achieve less stressful, more efficient processing. Many of us, however, have to work in existing facilities that are not optimally designed. While some of these can only be remedied by proper application of a bulldozer, some represent great opportunities for innovation.

Every time you pick up a cattle prod, ask yourself "what's wrong with this facility and how can I fix it?" Simple lighting changes or moving a gate might result in less stress on the cattle and you. (See "A Matter Of Atmosphere," January BEEF, page 48.)

Researchers at West Texas A&M University recently published results of a survey of pressures exerted by cattle hydraulic chutes. One of the thought-provoking results was the amount of variability in pressures exerted on cattle by different chutes. Pressures at the level where the head gate strikes the neck of the calf ranged from 200 to 1,700 lbs.

What is the optimum pressure? No one has yet done that research, but clearly some handlers are able to get the job done using much less pressure than others. (Also,see "Caught In The Middle," July BEEF, page 22.)

The rest of the survey results showing the pressures exerted by the sides and tailgate can be found in the January issue of Bovine Practitioner. Or, view the abstract at www.wtamu.edu/research/feedlot/forces.pdf.

Louis Perino, DVM, PhD, is a professor of immunology, health and management at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. Gerald Stokka, DVM, MS, is an associate professor and Extension beef veterinarian at Kansas State University in Manhattan.