Facility design the focus of MFA-sponsored low-stress livestock demonstrations
By Susan McCabe
No one likes being backed into a corner--including cattle. The stress, discomfort and distractions can dramatically change cattle behavior for the worse, putting an operation--and handler safety--in jeopardy. Exploring cattle facility design and handling for the better is the focus of the Western Farm Show's third annual NCBA's Stockmanship and Stewardship Low-Stress Livestock Handling Demonstrations, sponsored by MFA, Inc., one of the Western Farm Show's primary sponsors for 2013.
Designed to improve the well-being of cattle and their handlers through humane conditions and management, the demonstrations (formerly on a Friday) are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Feb. 23 in the Scott Pavilion, adjacent to the American Royal Complex. It's geared toward cattle producers and handlers, beef and dairy, regardless of the size or age of the herd. Texas AgriLife Extension Specialist Ron Gill, Ph.D., leads the educational demonstration.
"It's important to take advantage of the natural tendencies of cattle, avoid as many distractions as possible and position handlers in the correct location," says Gill. "And while facility design is an important part of this equation, we want to do everything we can to minimize construction costs."
According to Gill, poorly designed facilities include those corrals in which the cattle are continually pushed toward smaller, more confined areas where they do not perceive a way out, as well as overcrowding where the outlet into the crowd alley is not obvious or easy for cattle to see. Instead, he says, facility design should take advantage of the natural tendencies of cattle.
"Producers tend to overfill corrals, and often they are designed to where people end up in the wrong position to maintain flow and movement," Gill says.
Gill will also discuss making existing facilities work better through cost-efficient means. For example, proper use of driving aids, along with correct placement of people make these systems work better.
Handlers, too, make mistakes, Gill says, including moving too large a group of cattle toward the processing area, bringing more cattle into the crowding area than will fit into the crowd alley/leadup to the squeeze chute, storing these excess cattle in the sweep tub or crowding areas and over utilizing solid sides on handling areas.
MFA, Inc. is a champion of proper cattle handling and facility designs. The Midwest-based regional farm supply and marketing cooperative serves more than 45,000 farmer/owners in Missouri and adjacent states. Its 106 company-owned MFA Agri Services Centers, combined with 27 locally owned MFA affiliates with 24 branch locations, works in tandem with its approximately 400 independent dealers. Mike Spidle, MFA's director of Sales Livestock Products/Feed Market, says the Low-Stress Livestock Handling Demonstrations provide producers and Western Farm Show attendees with valuable tips.
"MFA sells cattle-working equipment and I've seen Dr. Gill's presentation," Spidle says. "Low-stress handling is a great technique and it works. Coupled with a good working system, it could save you a trip to the ER or a stay the hospital."
At the core of Gill's demonstration are tips for improving productivity, minimizing injuries to livestock and people, reducing overall operating costs and contributing to improved final product quality. The tips have a direct impact on the success of cow-calf, seedstock, stocker and feeder operations. In fact, Gill says there are five basic principles of cattle behavior that, when used properly, can improve the ease and speed of working cattle, while reducing stress and increasing efficiency. Those five principles are based on the notion that cattle want to see and go around the handler, cattle want to be with and go toward other cattle, they want to return to where they have been and cattle can process only one main thought at a time.
As a sponsor of the Western Farm Show and the Low-Stress Livestock Demonstration, MFA has launched a promotional effort to spread the word through media and industry networks.
"The Western Farm Show is thrilled to have MFA, Inc. on board as our primary show sponsor," says Western Farm Show Manager Ken Dean. "MFA's involvement with the livestock demonstrations, as well as its promotional efforts is a major asset to our show. These livestock demonstrations are becoming a must-see part of our Farm Show."