You’ve been training the cows to come into the catch pen for the past couple of weeks. You got your help all lined up. You’ve got the vet scheduled for the exact time you wanted to work cows. Everything appears ready to go work your herd. But wait-have you taken time to give your facilities an inspection? This may not be the first thing you think about when planning fall herd work, but it may be the most critical and important thing you can do to ensure an efficient and safe working day for your cattle, your help and yourself.
Some recent statistics I came across during an Internet search I found striking. One in five hospitalized farm injuries are livestock related. Livestock related injuries trail only tractor and machinery incidents. As you are all aware, cows and bulls are big, strong, athletic animals that can hurt you even if they don’t mean to hurt you. Properly working facilities are important to working safely around cattle. Several things need to be considered when inspecting facilities prior to use. I would like to concentrate on what I believe to be the most critical areas.
When I examine a patient, many times I start with the head. So start with your chute and/or head gate when doing your facility exam. Make sure all moving parts are working. Anything that needs lubrication, apply what’s recommended. Some sliding parts of the head gate only need light lubrication like WD-40, whereas other parts have grease fittings for heavier lubrication. Are all nuts, keys, and pins tight and secure? A loose nut after a few cows hit the chute can come loose and cause all sorts of problems. Another point to check is the ropes that raise the back gate of the chute or the squeeze lever. Any frayed or worn ropes should be replaced.
Next, let’s move back to the “body” of your working facility, the alleys, tubs and pens. Again, keep the can of WD-40 and the grease gun handy for any moving parts and gates. If you have adjustable alleys, make sure to clean out the dried manure from last spring’s roundup so your adjusters work cleanly and smoothly. Cattle prefer less noise to more noise, so make sure tub gates are lubricated to get rid of those squeaky hinges. The same thing goes for the gate hinges in your sorting pens. Make sure your gate latches are in working order. For those of you who have wooden corrals and I know there a lot of them-I see them every day, check for loose or broken boards. Nothing ruins a work day like seeing a client’s 500 pound steer calf break a leg after getting hung up in a hole where an old board has broken.
Now, after all this inspection, you may think you’re done and ready to go to work. But don’t forget the “tail end,” that is, the equipment you need to do the job. Do your cattle prods need new batteries? If you’re supplying dosing and injection syringes, confirm that they are clean and work smoothly. Another point you should consider is taking time to go over your facility and how it works with everyone who is helping work cattle with you. Know where the escape places are located. When a 1,500-pound cow is bearing down on you that is not the time to find out where the escape gate is located.
Taking time to visually inspect your handling facilities is valuable in many ways. It makes the day go faster and more smoothly. Cattle that are processed smoothly are less stressed and thus perform better. And most importantly, your cattle, your help (especially your vet), and you are less likely to be injured, requiring a more costly physical examination at the hospital.
Dr. Mike Bloss, DVM, owns and operates Countryside Animal Clinic with his wife, Kristin Bloss, DVM. The mixed animal practice is located in Aurora, Mo.