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How to handle your beef cattle – Part 2: The importance of a crush

Beef cattle

To make beef production a pleasure, it is vital to use the right equipment and to listen to the academics and experts who spend many hours working out what the equipment should look like and how it should function. This is the second part in our beef cattle handling series and the ARC-Institute for Agricultural Engineering in South Africa has made their manual on handling facilities available to ProAgri Zambia so that our readers can benefit from their research and knowledge.

Last month we found the easiest way for the handler to manage cattle. This month we focus on the different kinds of sorting pens.

Sorting pens

Cattle are collected from the field or feeding pens before being handled. The size of the sorting pens must be as large as the largest group of animals to be handled at a time. Each animal needs approximately 2 m² of space in the sorting pen.

The shape of a sorting pen depends on the total lay-out of the facility, whether round or square. For savings on labour, there should preferably be two sorting pens. In the planning of a system, provision must be made for possible future expansion.

In sorting pens used for commercial purposes, one pen should be in the shade and be supplied with water, should sick or injured cattle have to be kept there for recuperation. In feeding lots, however, provision must be made for a separate recuperation camp. In large feeding pens, a separate sickbay with a crush pen and special facilities will be necessary.

Crush pens

Crush pens are used to drive the cattle from the sorting pens to the loading platform. It is usually provided with moveable gates, used for leading the cattle into the crush, by making the area behind them smaller.

In handling facilities with a rectangular layout, a funnel-type crush is usually used. The crush pen must be designed in such a way that the one side joins up straight, that is continuous with the crush. The other side must join up with the crush at approximately 30°. If both sides join up with the crush at an angle, like a funnel, it causes the cattle to try to turn around and mill around in front of the entrance. One of the handling mistakes occurring generally in funnel-shaped crushing pens, is that the pens are overloaded with cattle. The crushing pen must never be filled more than three-quarters full with cattle.

Cattle will move into the crush more effectively if handlers wait until the crush is half filled before they drive in more cattle. This will create enough space for the cattle to follow a leader into the crush. Figure 5 shows a typical funnel-shaped crush pen.

Cattle usually walk along a fence and are inclined to stand in corners. A round crushing corral is usually better than a rectangular one, as it helps with the flow of cattle. The construction of such a crush pen is, however, more difficult. To simplify the construction, a pen can be made 10 or 11 sided instead of round. A partial circle can also be used.

A number of exit gates are provided on the sides and lead to the loading platform, crush or sorting pens. Each crushing pen is provided with two crush-gates that hinge around a pole in the centre of the pen. One gate is for directing the cattle to the correct exit and the other gate is for moving the cattle. These crush gates can be 3,0 m to 3,5 m long. The pole on which the gates are joined must be securely concreted into the ground and sturdy hinges must be affixed.

For a very heavy gate, a bearing is used on the top end as a hinge. A wheel can also be affixed to the bottom end of the gate, to provide sturdiness to heavy gates.

A space of approximately 100 mm must be left between the gate and the ground to allow for unevenness of the ground and to make provision for collection of manure.  Layouts of different crush pens are shown in Figures 5, 6, 7 and 8.

It is preferable to make the crush gates and sides of the crush pen solid, while it is a must for feedlots. The only exit that the cattle then see, is to a certain exit gate. The sides can be made solid with steel sheets or rubber. Steel sheets of one millimetre in thickness are too thin and cause a lot of unnecessary noise. Use thicker sheets instead. Peepholes can be made for the handlers to observe the animals.

Crushes

Static crushes

A crush is used to line up cattle in single file to handle them. The end of the crush is considered the working area. A general problem at crushes is that they are usually made too short and too wide. By following a few directives, much frustration can be avoided. The type of crush which will be used will depend on the specific lay-out of the handling facility.

Crush

The length of the crush is determined by the number of cattle that have to stand in the crush at the same time. As a rule of thumb, 1,5 m per animal is allowed. Therefore, multiply the number of cattle that have to stand in the crush at one time with 1,5 m. A crush must preferably be at least six metres long, with the length of a straight crush generally 12 to 21 m long.

A too short crush will lengthen the work time of large herds of cattle, while a crush that is too long, will cause the cattle to remain crowded together during a long work session. This could cause some cattle to lie down and cause disorder and injury. It happens especially with wild cattle.

It is preferable that the crush is built at an upwards incline towards the front, because cattle will rather tend to move uphill in a narrow passage than downhill. Cattle tend to stop if they are driven downhill in a crush. The slope will also help to allow rainwater to run off and this prevents slush.

Crushes may be curved or straight. The overall lay-out of the handling facility will determine which type to use. The advantage of a curved crush over a straight crush, is that the flow of cattle is generally better in a curved crush. One of the reasons for this is that the leading animal cannot see the exit in front of him and only follows the crush. The rest of the cattle only see the animals in front of them and follow easier. The cattle can also not see ahead that they are to be handled. Another advantage of the curved crush, is that the rumps of all the animals are in the same direction. This simplifies gestation examinations. The radius of such a crush is approximately 13 m.

Next month we shall look at various crush constructions and the ideal crush dimensions and specifications.

Published with acknowledgement to the ARC-Institute for Agricultural Engineering for the use of their Beef Cattle Handling Manual. Visit www.arc.agric.za for more information.

beef cattle
Figure 5: Funnel-shaped crush pen
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Figure 6: Herding pen
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Figure 7: Crushing pen

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Figure 8: Variation of crushing pen – semi-circular pen

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