Optimize Your Cattle Handling System Design - Ron Gill, PHD & Rick Machen, PHD
In working cattle in any processing facility it is important to keep the principles of cattle behavior in mind as your cattle handling system is being designed. Anytime we can create cattle flow where they can go past where we need them to end up it will make the cattle handling and processing easier. Also remember cattle do not like being moved toward a solid sided or closed in area, as they do not perceive a way out. If it is necessary or desirable to use closed sided processing areas, then the design must be large enough for cattle to go past where they need to come back to without putting too much pressure on the cattle.
Many current cattle handling systems designs have short changed that last requirement and simply try to rely on forcing cattle to enter the force area and using a force gate to push them around to the opening into the processing lead up.
There have been two basic designs that allow cattle flow to work correctly into the processing area. One is designed using a forcing pen commonly called a forcing pen or cattle tub. There are literally dozens of variations of these designs however few work as smoothly as the 135° or 270°.
The other design is a “Bud Box”. The Bud Box is the simplest to design but requires the better understanding of cattle behavior because there is no way to force an animal out of the Box and into the race. If handlers of cattle are unwilling or unable to develop and adopt this understanding they should not build or try to use a Bud Box. They should stick to designs that will allow people who do not completely understand behavior to get cattle through the facility.
There is nothing magical or mystical about a Bud Box. It is a facility design that allows the handlers to position themselves correctly to facilitate cattle flow out of the box into either the race leading to a crush or to a trailer load out. Dimensions are important to successful use of a Box but not as critical as handler position in relation to the stock leaving the Box. Without proper position and attention to detail a Box will only confuse the stock and frustrate the handler.
Recently, a variation of a Cattle Force Pen design has been introduced by Arrowquip to mimic the flow created by a Bud Box but utilize the design and function of a Forcing Pen. The BudFlow® Forcing Pen is designed so cattle are brought in to the force pen backwards from the normal approach to loading cattle into a force pen. The cattle go to the back of the pen and then return to the point of entry, which is now closed, and the only exit is out the race. If cattle do not flow out of the force pen, the option of using the force gate is still available to move the cattle towards the lead-up to the crush. The BudFlow® Forcing Pen mimics the Bud Box and the 135°or 270°Force Pen systems, that create this flow back movement in cattle.
Always keep in mind that any kind of Force Pen or Box is a flow-through part of the facility. Cattle should never be stored in a Force Pen or Box waiting to be sent into the race or to a trailer. Bring them in and let them flow back out immediately.
The Force Pen or Box should be large enough to accommodate a volume of cattle adequate to fill the race or fill a trailer compartment. An race to a cattle crush should hold a minimum of 4 cows and might need to hold 20 head depending on the speed of processing. Races on cow-calf operations will typically hold 5 to 6 cows. Facilities working calves or yearlings routinely need races for 12 to 20 head of cattle.
Remember, the race will normally not be empty when additional cattle are brought through the Force Pen or Box. To maintain flow, it will be necessary to add additional cattle while one or two still await processing. Consequently, the length of the race is important. Ideally it would be long enough to hold an adequate number of cattle for processing while more cattle are brought through the Force or Box - without disrupting flow. A short lead-up may result in frequent interruptions of cattle flow and processing.
For some reason the industry has migrated toward the race starting to curve at the entrance from the Forcing Pen or Box. The exit from a Force Pen or a Box and entrance into the race should be straight for at least two mature cow body lengths. This allows flow to become established without the appearance of entering a dead-end race. Keep it straight for at least 12 feet and then start a curve if warranted (ex. space is limited). Otherwise a long straight race works very well for processing cattle.
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