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Working cattle

Agriculture.com Staff 03/16/2011 @ 1:55pm

In as little as 30 minutes, Breanne Ilse and two livestock technicians weigh and vaccinate 60 steers thanks to an upgraded facility that combines high-tech equipment and some basic cow sense. And the whole process for everyone — cattle and humans — is about as stress-free as it gets.

At the heart of the design is a staging pen, based on the Bud Box (www.stockmanship.com) developed by Bud Williams of Bowie, Texas, for working cattle on pasture. Instead of pushing cattle through, steers choose to go where the handlers want them to go, simply because of the exit's placement.

It's like the difference between night and day, says Ilse, research specialist at North Dakota State University's Agricultural Experiment Station in Carrington. The old design had workers pushing cattle straight in from the outside into a dark barn. Cattle balked. When the station had the opportunity to install a Silencer hydraulic squeeze chute, she and other staff members drew up a new sketch for the 40×64-foot building.

“Our design was restricted by building size,” Ilse notes. “The staging pen is based on the Bud Box concept with alterations.”

The size allows for eight to 12 animals at a time. Animals are herded into the barn, and the alley leads them to the staging pen. The handler shuts the gate behind the steers and then moves to the opposite corner from the gate. Cattle go around the handler and head back to where they came from. The gate is closed, but right next to it is the double alley leading toward the scale and Silencer chute.

“Cattle really do want to go back,” Ilse says. “The position of where animals come in and the chute is the key thing.”

Thinking Outside The Box

Bud Box creators have specific recommendations, including size and a gate set up so handlers stand behind, outside the box. But, Ilse says, producers can adapt if for their facilities. For example, it may be possible to use the concept with tubs (round forcing pens) if the entrance gate and chute placement are adjacent to each other.

The facility includes other features to make working with cattle easier. Since researchers deal with 100 to 300 animals every year and weigh them every 28 days, they added a double alley leading into a single alley. A cow seems to be more relaxed when another animal is walking beside it.

Researchers also installed additional lights to eliminate shadows and to make it easier for the handlers. It's also more welcoming for cattle that used to hesitate in moving from the bright sunlight to a dark building. Finally, the textured floor offers better traction for the cattle and handlers.

“It's a facility you can make as cheap or as expensive as you want,” Ilse says. “The Bud Box can be made with panels, and the alleys could be homebuilt.” She says the original design has panels so cattle herders can be outside the box for safety. The facility has solid walls and a person is right with the herd, because the building has limited space. Also, since handlers work with the animals often, the herd is easier to control.

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