Appropriate handling systems improve safety for workers and livestock. It allows for appropriate sorting and grouping for feeding, medical treatments, loading and transporting. The lower stress also improves quality of life for livestock and ultimately improves the meat texture and flavor. Handling systems must be designed and operated so they:
Do not impede movement of goats and sheep.
Reduce the amount and intensity of noise.
Use solid sides in chutes and crowd pens leading up to chutes. Solid sides in these areas help prevent animals from becoming agitated when they see activity outside the fence—such as people, erratic movements or other animals. The gate on the crowd pen should also be solid to prevent animals from attempting to turn back towards the holding pens.
Use lighting to your advantage. Lighting should be diffuse. It’s important to prevent bright glaring lights or lights that cast shadows that can cause balking.
Animals tend to move from a darker area to a more brightly lit area and may refuse to enter a dark place.
Lamps can be used to attract animals into chutes.
The light should illuminate the chute up ahead. It should never glare directly into the eyes of approaching animals.
If these options are not possible, it is best to illuminate the entire chute area.
Eliminate visual distractions. Get down in the chutes to see them from the animals’ perspective.
Livestock balk at shadows, puddles of water or any object that stands in their way.
A drain or a metal plate running across an alley can cause animals to stop. Drains should be located outside the areas where the animals walk.
Flapping objects, such as a coat hung over a fence or a hanging chain, will also make livestock balk.
Install shields or strips of discarded conveyor belting to prevent animals from seeing movement up ahead as they approach the restrainer.
Non-slip flooring is essential. Humane, efficient handling is very difficult on slick floors because animals can become agitated and excited when they lose their footing. All areas where livestock walk should have a non-slip surface.
Existing concrete floors can be roughened with a concrete grooving machine.
For sheep and goats, stamp the pattern of raised expanded metal into wet concrete.
A rough broom finish will become worn smooth over time and may need to be roughened again. It is also essential to use the right concrete mix for maximum resistance to wear.
Gates, fences and chutes should have smooth surfaces to prevent bruises. Sharp edges and protruding objects with a small diameter—such as angle irons, exposed pipe ends and channels—will cause bruises.
Round pipe posts with a diameter larger than 3 inches (8 cm) are less likely to bruise.
Vertical slide gates in chutes should be counter-weighted to prevent accidentally hitting the animal’s back, which can cause bruises.
The bottom of these gates should be padded with cut tires or conveyor belting.
The gate track should be recessed into the chute wall to eliminate a sharp edge that will bruise.
Harsh Contrasts: Livestock do not easily walk into dark spaces. This is because grazing animals exhibit dichromatism meaning they are sensitive to harsh contrasts between light and dark colors. Dichromatism sight enhances night vision and helps the grazing animal detect motion, but can cause stalls in handling systems. They may refuse to walk over a shadow or step onto a concrete or steel floor from a dirt floor. The high contrast of the color change to the floor or a sharp shadow may alarm them especially if in an unfamiliar location. Loading into a trailer might be difficult until the lead animal figures out that the floor is safe.
Livestock may see dark shadows as “holes”. Likewise bright sunlight patterns may be visually confusing and startle or appear as barriers. Check for perceived obstructions. Livestock should have a clear, unobstructed view towards where they are meant to move. Livestock move better if they follow their known route. Entrances to sheds, loading ramps and working chutes should be placed near the route cattle and sheep normally take. They should move fluidly. If they more erratically or hesitantly they are stressed or confused and may panic. Impose as few changes as possible to their normal routine.
Importance of curves: Handling systems are important in gathering, feeding, and holding areas. Well-designed working and sorting chutes are key to reducing stress on livestock. There are basic details animal behaviorists have identified such as using curves. A curved handling system works on the principle that livestock always prefer to return to where they came from. Sheep and cattle in a wide curved lane will move more willingly towards a crowd pen. From the crowd pen they then move single file into a narrow into a chute towards the treatment or sorting chute. More information can be found on Temple Grandin’s Livestock Handling Systems website.