Taking time to plan a handling system can save time and money by improving efficiency while decreasing the risk of occupational injuries and stress caused to animals. Katie Brian gives Laura Bowyer some pointers.
Getting the dimensions right for key elements of a handling system is vitally important, says Ms Brian.
She says: “Measure the sheep using the system, measure the parts which work in the existing system and note the dimensions of successful systems on other farms.
“For low density holding areas in the system, the outside boundary fence must be higher than 900mm to 1,000mm.
“High density holding areas should allow for two sheep per m2, and there must be space for people to move among sheep and for gates to open and close. Creating long and narrow pens can make groups of sheep easier to control.”
In these areas, 2.5 to 3 sheep per m2 should be given, and a 30 to 40 degree angle to the entry of the race is essential, as a funneled race will cause jumping and jamming. The lead up to the forcing area must be roughly 3m wide and Ms Brian advises putting no more than 100 sheep in the forcing area.
“Sheep run well as a bunch in straight, 1.5m wide crowding areas and it is only when animals are in single file will curved races work better than straight lines.”
Drafting or sorting race
These systems require an even flow of sheep to work effectively, and should be more 3m long, says Ms Brian. The exit of the race should be clearly visible to the sheep and at eye-level and automatic gates can be useful if labour is short.
The position of the race can be important, and sheep appear to move more easily into the sun, with their shadows behind them, although low, early morning sun can blind them.
Ms Brian adds: “The race should run away from, or be parallel to any building or dead end, and it can be helpful to give sheep the sense of going back to where they came from, possibly facing a field.”
Poor handling of cattle cannot only be dangerous, but can also waste time and jeopardise the quality of their meat.
When designing cattle handling systems, 90 degree corners should be avoided as they are perceived by cattle as dead ends, and instead opt for circular and curved layouts where possible.
Ms Brian says: “Similarly to sheep, directing cattle towards a low sun should be avoided as they do not like having the sun directly in their eyes. Cattle do not like to move into dark areas and can be fearful of sharp shadows from railings and fences so a good amount of lighting should be provided, either natural or artificial.”
Holding and crowding pens
Ms Brian says: “Pens should be long and narrow to avoid circling and bunching allowing an easy flow of animals to the working area. Again sharp turns and changes in direction should be avoided.”
Crowding pens should provide enough space for cattle to turn and follow one another up the race.
Similar to sheep systems, one side of the race entry should be kept straight, while the other angled at 30 degrees. This will allow the animal to see up the race with their narrow binocular vision.
These should be built on a gentle curve or in a straight line, allowing two straight cattle lengths before the first turn. The curve should not be so tight that it gives the appearance of a dead end.