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Design cattle handling systems to fit purpose, farmers advised

SOME Welsh farms may need to revise the design of their cattle handling systems because they don’t suit the jobs they are needed for.

Livestock handling expert Miriam Parker warns beef farmers against opting for a ‘one size fits all’ system.

As the needs of every farm are different, a priority when designing a handling system should be to match it to its intended purpose.

“Consider the type of animals, the workforce and the jobs you are going to do,” Ms Parker told farmers attending a series of Farming Connect-led events on cattle handling across Wales.

“A suckler unit with 20 cows will look at things very differently to a finishing operation.”

Ms Parker said there were key design points to consider, whatever a system’s intended purpose.

For the safety of handlers, ensure there is an escape route from any space they occupy with the cattle – under, over, behind or through.

Ideally, the exit of a crush should not be positioned directly towards the early morning or late evening sun.

“Cattle move better when the exit faces the home pens or fields,” Ms Parker advised.

 Animals are easily distracted when moving through a confined space so consider the advantages of solid sides to keep them focused.

The angle of the crowd pen into the race can be a problem area – Ms Parker recommends having one straight side and the other set at a 30-degree angle.

Avoid making raceways too long because if the animal is kept waiting in a race for more than eight minutes its heart rate increases.

“Match the numbers in the race to the type of job,” said Ms Parker.

“Finishing units where there are regular fast jobs such as weighing might require a longer race than a smaller sucker herd but, whatever the system, the race should have a minimum of two cattle lengths before an animal enters the crush to prevent them turning back.”

The most expensive item in a handling system should be the crush.

Ms Parker is an advocate of squeeze crushes.

“They are a significant investment but you can design and build a lot of the handling system yourself and channel your funds into the crush.

“A squeeze crush hugs an animal instead of grabbing it by the throat and there are obvious benefits from this.”

Sarah Hughes, Farming Connect Red Meat Technical Officer (South West Wales), who organised the series of cattle handling events, said well-designed handling facilities provide a safe working environment on beef farms.

In Wales, farmers can apply for funding through a Farming Business Grant to help with the cost of handling equipment, she pointed out.

Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra, is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and Welsh Government.

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