When it comes to cattle processing, aim for safety

Moving cattle calmly into the processing system and securing the head correctly can reduce risks

Cattle in a field can be quiet, but move them into close quarters with humans for processing and that’s where safety can be 

It often takes an accident or a close call before someone shows up at the door of Brussels Agri-Service looking for safer cattle handling equipment.

It isn’t one age or any type of producer, it’s a diverse group looking at how they manage cattle better for the safety of the cattle and their human handlers, says Tim Prior, owner of Brussels Agri-Service.

Why it matters: The period of cattle processing is the point at which farmers and cattle are closest and most injuries occur, so proper equipment and employee education are important.

A 40-year-old farmer was a recent customer who showed up to look at what could be done to improve the safety of his handling system. 

“He got hurt and needed safer equipment. When you are younger you have other financial priorities, but safety needs to be up there,” says Prior.

Rajan Niraula, engineering specialist for livestock housing and equipment with OMAFRA says that the most common injury areas include pens, alleyways and squeeze chutes, while cattle are being sorted, moved and loaded.

Prior knows the risks as he’s also a cattle producer.

“I’m speaking as someone who has cattle, has a processing chute and was partially injured from a dilapidated chute years ago.”

Prior says older chutes from 20 years ago weren’t constructed as heavily as today’s chutes. Weight and heavy-duty construction mean the chute isn’t going to move.

“On lots of farms, it’s shaking and rattling and rolling and going to fall apart in a minute.”

Keeping cattle calm can help both people and the animals involved.

GRAPHIC: https://arrowquip.com/resources/concepts/head-catch-location

Niraula says that while equipment design is critical, so is having people involved who are experienced and understand proper handling practices. 

“The lower the stress on the cattle the easier they move,” says Prior. 

Good system design is critical, says Niraula. 

Pens that are too small put the handler constantly in the animal’s flight zone, increasing animal stress. 

“On the other hand, too large of a pen size will cause difficulty in moving the cattle,” he says.

Creating circular flow can help, as rectangular pens put workers at risk as animals bunch up in the corners, says Niraula. 

Purpose-built permanent round facilities or temporary tubs keep cattle moving in a circular direction, which is more likely to encourage movement. 

The Arrowquip BudFlow tub that Prior sells has cattle enter at the front of the tub which allows them to turn back the way they came and reduces stress for the animals. Cattle can see through the tub with sheeting set at 30 inches and it’s therefore more likely that they will head towards the light of the bars instead of having their view completely obscured by sheeting.

When the cattle arrive at the chute, Prior says a well-designed manual chute geared for cattle flow works well. Easy-to-manage panels for access to the cow is important for safety.

One of the biggest risk areas when managing cattle is the head, which cattle can move quickly, and is like being hit by a tree trunk.

Many cracked ribs have been created while trying to manage cattle at their head. Cattle also can be injured when they are scared and have their heads free.

That’s why Prior suggests a head holder be installed on the front of the processing gate. It has pieces above and below the head that can be moved in place with a lever so that the head can’t move while one of the numerous head-area activities happen. That can include tagging, inserting implants or treating an eye or nose issue.

Cattle processing systems have usually been portable, set up when needed a few times per year. Larger beef farms are building areas in new barns specifically set up for calm cattle flow and processing, says Prior.

“They are doing it without any square corners so they can guide cattle directionally where they need to go.”

There are no mandatory standards for cattle handling equipment, says Niraula, but there are plenty of good recommendations. He suggests the OMAFRA publication on cattle handling facilities.

About the author


John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig



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