Friday, June 5, 2015, 5:30 p.m.:

“Doc, I’m sending my son into town with a calf that I think has a broken leg! Can you fix it?”

“It depends. Where is the break?”

“I don’t know; my wife is taking me to town to have the local doc sew me up. Things got a little Western, and I’m sending my boy into town with this calf. Do what you think is best.”

Unfortunately, this scenario does occur more than we would like to admit. Bad luck and misfortune can happen. Just like humans breaking an arm or leg, calves can break legs as well. However, having poor facilities to work cattle can be the cause rather than bad luck.

I recently had a phone conversation with a client about building new facilities. We talked for a couple of hours discussing the double-alley systems, single-alley systems, Bud Boxes, tub designs, snakes and all possible chutes. After the phone call, I began recalling the places that I have feared for my life while preg checking, semen-testing bulls and/or delivering calves. Right or wrong, I know the veterinarian’s safety may not be top of mind, but when taking into consideration animal welfare, the value of the livestock and the cost of labor getting injured on the job, there is really no excuse not to have safe facilities to handle cattle.

Animal welfare

Animal welfare is more than just a buzz word in our industry. Animal welfare is a reality. I will never forget the phrase Dr. Tom Noffsinger, a consulting feedyard veterinarian known for his work on animal-welfare issues, uses to describe the human’s role in the beef workplace. He says we are care givers and not care takers. It is our responsibility to give the care these animals deserve. It has been proven time and time again that cattle that are more comfortable will perform better. They will gain more weight, have less illness and reproduce more efficiently. And that is a pretty good deal when beef is worth so much today. 

Value of the livestock

It is unacceptable to fatally injure an animal in handling facilities. However, I do realize accidents happen. Just as many of you, I am sure, I have been a part of these accidents before, and I am sure I will be a part of some misfortunes later. It is a part of life. But if animals are continuously getting hurt in your working facilities, maybe it is time to look into taking the chicken wire and hog panels down. It won’t take many $7,500 bulls, $3,000 bred heifers, $2,200 fat steers and $500 wet-naveled calves to pay for at least a portable wheel coral.

Cost of labor

Finding labor in agriculture is becoming more and more difficult. Many times good working facilities can actually decrease the need for labor when it comes time to process cattle. But in a few places it takes an army to process a handful of cattle. Just like animals getting injured as discussed above, people will get injured as well. This could be more costly than the livestock. A few of the biggest reasons people get injured when working around poor livestock facilities are: 

  • The large number of people it takes to keep the animals moving through the woven wire gates tied to the trees increases the odds of someone getting hurt. 
  • There are more obstacles in the way to impale the helpers.
  • Cattle become so angry with being in these poor facilities, they retaliate and work against us, rather than with us, as Noffsinger recommends.  

The bottom line is producers in 2015 should provide cattle-handling systems that will help the cattle and the labor be safe and comfortable, which will in turn help your financial statement.

If you need help getting started, contact your local veterinarian. He or she can help point you in the right direction. Or maybe start by ripping out the old head catch grandpa built with his bare hands and place it in the museum. I know there is sentimental value there, but I am sure your grandpa would be very displeased if he knew you lost a $3,000 animal because of being hard headed and cheap.