Livestock handling expert Grandin visits CasperWritten by Christy Hemken
Grandin has worked extensively with animal behavior, resulting in her design of livestock handling facilities now in use in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, among others. She has also authored four books on the subject.
“Distractions that cause balking are shadows, high contrasts of light and dark, reflections on metal or water, seeing people ahead, moving objects and air blowing in their faces, to name a few,” she explained at the eighth annual Doornbos Lecture Series April 20 at Casper College.
She recommended getting down on the animals’ level to see what they’re seeing. “The animal’s brain is into details. Your animals will show you the stuff they don’t like.”
One simple and inexpensive solution she offers is blocking problem areas up with cardboard.
“Animals have a tendency to go from darkness to light, but they don’t go into blinding light. You’ll often get time-of-day effects in a facility,” she said, adding that handlers should avoid the “black hole effect” of entering a dark building.
“You have to get daylight into the building. Rip some tin off and replace it with white translucent panels to make it look like a bright cloudy day,” said Grandin.
To avoid time-of-day effects, she recommends sighting loading chutes so they run north and south. Otherwise, wait and hour or two in the early morning or evening until the sun rises above the chute.
A trademark of Grandin’s handling facilities is the curved chute design. “Curved chutes work because as the cattle come in they don’t see the people, and they take advantage of the natural tendency of cattle to go back to where they came from,” she said.
“Use behavior, not force, to control animals. Lots of curved chutes don’t work because they’re laid out wrong. The trick to using a curved chute is the animal has to see a place to go before you take them around the corner,” she said, adding, “One of the most critical part of a curved system is he’s got to be able to see up two body lengths.”
Grandin’s systems are based on three half circles located along a line. “If you’re going to redo your corrals, get a scale ruler and lay it out on paper, then lay it out on the ground with lime or laundry detergent so you can see it. If you’re only going to build one piece at a time, lay the whole thing out to make sure it’ll fit on the site,” she said.
Gathering pens should be 20 square feet for each full-size animal, 35 square feet for a pair, or 45 square feet for a pair with a big calf.
“The part of the setup that’s most critical is from the crowd pen into the squeeze chute. If you lay them out wrong they don’t work,” said Grandin.
Grandin said cattle perceive a man on a horse and a man on foot as two different things. “Animals need to learn to be handled both ways, because sometime in their life they’ll be handled on foot, and there have been horrendous accidents at packing plants from cattle spooked by a man on foot.”
She also said she prefers to not work cattle in pens and chutes with dogs. “Dogs teach cattle to kick, because they can’t get away from them. You’ve got to think about what’s going to happen with handling later on in the supply chain.”
When moving cattle, she said to move small groups. “Fill the crowd pen half full. It should be used as a passing-through pen. You don’t want to fill the crowd pen all the way, then let them stand there so they all turn around.” She said the radius of a crowd pen should be 12 feet, and no smaller than 10 feet.
An exception to the half-full rule is sheep, which can be moved in large groups.
“Get the cattle prod out of your hand,” she said, noting the only place it should really need to be used is to get a stubborn animal into a squeeze chute. “You should be able to get 90 percent of your livestock into the squeeze chute with no hot shot. Use a flag or a paddle as your primary tool. People’s attitudes toward cattle improve when you get the hot shot out of their hand.”
Also, she said if more than two percent of animals fall in the chute or exiting the squeeze chute, there’s something wrong with the facility.
Grandin has also worked extensively to develop an objective scoring system to assess the handling of cattle and hogs at meat plants. “This system measures techniques to prevent bad from becoming normal,” she explained. “Handling quality can be maintained by regular audits of your handling practices with an objective numerical scoring system. Ban words like properly, adequate, excessive and sufficient and go to numbers, like how many times an electric prod was used and how many fell down.”
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) guidelines specify an electric prod should only be used on 10 percent of cattle on a ranch. Packinghouse guidelines state only three cattle out of 100 are allowed to bellow. “Good critical control points measure a multitude of problems, and I use animal-based outcome measures,” said Grandin.
“Lots of times a whole lot of little things add up to a big thing,” she said of livestock handling facilities, both on the ranch and in the packinghouse. “It’s important to get down on the animal’s level to see what they see, then make small adjustments in the system to fix the problems.”