Technical information - General

Tips for stress free yards

by MLA FEEDBACK September 2009


Minimal adjustments to cattle yards can have a major impact on stock movement according to US stock handling expert Dr Temple Grandin.

Dr Grandin has been instrumental in changing stock handling methods, attitudes and facilities worldwide and some of her methods have been incorporated directly into the Meat Standards Australia grading guidelines to prevent dark cutting cattle.

Meat & Livestock Australia sponsored her recent visit to Australia, which included an address to 350 people at Muttaburra, Queensland.

Dr Grandin, the Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, has researched and written extensively on the best design of handling facilities, so much so that half the cattle in the US and Canada are handled in equipment she has designed for abattoirs.

She has also developed animal welfare guidelines for the meat industry, consults with McDonald’s, Wendy’s International, Burger King and other companies on animal welfare and has published several hundred industry publications, books and technical papers on animal handling.

Her six points for improved cattle handling are:

  • Finding distractions in yards and removing them. This could be as simple as removing a chain hanging in the race that spooks the cattle or adding solid sides in the forcing yard so cattle can’t see the producer at work.
  • Remain calm when handling stock.
  • Never fill the forcing pen more than half.
  • Use the forcing pen as a ‘passing through’ pen so cattle can move straight through onto the truck.
  • Utilise flight zone principals. Walking in the opposite direction of desired movement can move animals effectively.
  • Use the point of balance, which is at the animal’s shoulder. Cattle will move forward if the handler stands behind the point of balance and back up if the handler stands in front of it.

Dr Grandin said some producers would need to improve their yards and stock facilities to help improve their handling. These improvements could often be made without significant changes to existing infrastructure.

“I’ve fixed many facilities by simply moving distractions, like a chain hanging down, or a car parked in the wrong place near the yards,” Dr Grandin said.

“After that, the most critical part of the stock yard is the junction where the forcing pen meets the race.

“Cattle just won’t go in if it looks like a dead end. A curved race works because cattle have a tendency to go back where they came from.

“You can modify existing yards by building an S-shape design and we’ve done plenty of those in the US.”

Non-slip floors are essential for better handling and this can be achieved by welding steel rods into a grid for better traction. The rods must be cut so they can lay flat once crossed and welded.

Dr Grandin said the improvements in handling will prove cost-effective as they will lead to calmer cattle that gain more weight and reduce the number of dark cutting animals.

As a rule of thumb, Dr Grandin said less than 25% of cattle in the yards should move at faster than a trot, less than 5% should need the electric prod, only 1% should fall over or crash into something and less than 5% should be vocal when in the crush, except for when they’re branded.

“If you work on improving your handling, you will achieve those numbers,” she said.

Ideas can be found at Dr Grandin’s website: