Guide helps auctions manage animal welfare issues
By Doug Rich
Livestock auctions need to pay particular attention to animal welfare issues because they are a point of access for the general public. On sale day, hundreds of trailers are loaded and unloaded, cattle are moved up to five times during their stay at the sale facility, cattle are commingled, and there is a lot of urgency to move cattle quickly.
"Those livestock provide challenges for the staff and sometimes the animals are not handled well by the staff," said Dave Sjecklocha, a veterinarian at the Haskell County Animal Hospital in western Kansas.
Sjecklocha spoke during the International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare held May 19 to 21 in Manhattan, Kan. He explained how livestock auctions could use the guide to animal handling and employee training developed by the Livestock Marketing Association to improve animal well-being at livestock auctions.
The guide begins with a series of questions for livestock auction management to help evaluate their facilities, risk management and employee training. It helps them set standards for animal handling at their facility. The guide addresses topics such as electric prod usage, how to handle loose animals, how to handle non-ambulatory animals, euthanasia and the condition of alleyways and gates.
An area of concern for most livestock auctions is how to handle non-ambulatory animals. Sjecklocha said many of these animals should not be at the livestock auction in the first place. He suggested using the annual patronage appreciation dinner as a good time to address this topic with your customers.
"Remember, once they get to the livestock market, they will be moved four to five times," Sjecklocha said. "It is a whole new environment for these animals."
Jennifer Woods, J. Woods Livestock Service, said it is not whether an animal can walk onto the trailer, but whether they can walk off. Cattlemen should go through a mental checklist before they transport livestock. Animals that might become downers are those that cannot stand or walk unassisted, have a fever greater than 103 degrees, are thin with a body score less than 2.0, are blind or have cancer eye, and have fractures or lameness. If needed, on-farm euthanasia is preferable to euthanasia at a public livestock market.
Sjecklocha said livestock auctions should train employees to spot potential downer livestock. These animals should not be received or unloaded at the livestock auction.
"Draw a hard line here," Sjecklocha said, "Do not accept these animals."
Once animals are accepted, livestock auctions need to have a clear policy for handling non-ambulatory animals. The LMA guide said these animals should not be dragged, if at all possible, and definitely do not drag them by the head or neck. Don't use chains or shackles, and do not shove a forklift under an animal unless it is dead.
Sjecklocha said the best way to move a non-ambulatory animal is with a sling. A serviceable sling can be fashioned using a belt from a big round baler.
In extreme cases, it may be necessary to put down an animal at the livestock auction. Sjecklocha said he prefers a gun or a captive bolt. He has used a shotgun loaded with a slug or pheasant load. It is quick, painless, and the animal is dead before it hits the ground.
"It can be tough to walk up to a 1,500 pound bull that is loose in a pen and use an injection to put him down," Sjecklocha said.
Livestock auction managers need to remember how public they are. They should have clear, concise rules for handling livestock and make sure their employees are adequately trained. The guide to animal handling and employee training developed by the Livestock Marketing Association is a good place to start.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.