Signs declaring “no electric prods allowed” are a more frequent sight on feedlots today, as is a more quiet, gentler way of handling cattle. Stress can reduce effectiveness of vaccines, treatment and overall health. It’s very important that people are trained to move cattle from the receiving pens to the processing area in a quiet manner. “Yelling and screaming and moving them too quickly is counterproductive,” says Bob Smith, DVM, MS, Veterinary Research and Consulting Services, Stillwater, Okla.

Smith suggests when processing calves to only fill the tub half full. “If we overfill the tub they tend to turn around and then can’t find the alley to the chute. The tub should be considered a pass-through tub rather than a crowding tub. Waiting to bring new cattle until there is room for them to enter the snake is helpful; they tend to move directly to the snake if we give them the opportunity. Also, we should raise the first no-back gate in the snake as it frequently impedes cattle flow. People should be relatively quiet as cattle move through the system. With good cattle handling practices, we can usually move nearly 100% of the cattle without a prod as long as we have people who understand the point-of-balance and flight zone.” Lighting is also important. “If we try to move calves into a dark area, they balk and we become frustrated and fail in our handling efforts.”

Smith says, “When working cattle we want people who are quiet and people operating the chute who are experienced and can catch the calf without causing injury. All medications should be administered according to Beef Quality Assurance guidelines to improve beef quality by reducing injection site lesions.”

Good footing is essential

Incoming feedlot calves will be on concrete, many for the first time. If calves are highly-excitable toe injuries can occur as a result of slipping or spinning on slick or rough concrete. Calves that are excited can fall and bruise themselves, and these lamenesses might not show up for several days,” says Smith. “It’s important that we evaluate the condition of facilities on a routine basis, looking for sharp edges that might injure cattle, as well as floor surfaces that are either too slick or too rough for the safety of the cattle.”

Feedlots have used a variety of things to improve traction in cattle handling areas, including rubber mats, woven tire mats, deep sand and wood chips. But if not properly applied and maintained, these can lead to lameness issues. “Mats can be very effective,” says Wade Taylor, DVM, Oakley Veterinary Services, Oakley, Kan. “They need to be anchored well so they do not slip, but still have the ability to be moved and cleaned. They need to be maintained; if they start to fray they lose effectiveness.”

Some of Taylor’s yards use wood chips. “They need to be put in areas where we are sorting cattle or have high traffic areas, and not washed down on a regular basis.” Wood chips scattered by cattle have to be moved back in place with machinery or shovels, especially in high cattle traffic areas. “We try to keep wood chips three to six inches deep over concrete and use that for cushion,” Taylor explains. “We need to make sure the cattle are not getting down into the concrete, increasing their risk of slipping and creating toe abscesses, or increasing their chances of falling and bruising.”

Smith adds that sale barn cattle have increased risk of lameness if sorted on cement at the sale barn or on sand-covered cement. “Anytime we have periods of wet weather conditions where we see softened hooves, we see more cripples.”