Easy on the Cow, Easy on the Cowboy

Published on Wed, 02/08/2017 - 9:35am

Easy on the Cow, Easy on the Cowboy

By Courtney M. Dyer, Director of Marketing, Priefert Mfg

The Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Stockmanship and Stewardship Program is focused on teaching producers techniques to reduce handling stress and improve gathering, penning, working, and hauling cattle.  These techniques not only offer the producers that follow them a significant economic benefit, but also offer a “quality of life” benefit for them and their animals.  Countless cattlemen have had the privilege of watching one of the program’s two main teachers - Dr. Ron Gill and Curt Pate – conduct a live cattle handling demo at a variety of cattlemen’s conventions around the country, including annually at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Convention.  Many of these attendees are eager to get home and try these techniques with their herd, only to find that their current cattle handling facilities make it difficult to implement these practices.  
While many cattlemen dedicate a lot of time and consideration to selecting the right squeeze chute, most don’t give as much attention or care to the selection of the equipment behind the chute.  Often, it is this part of the working facility that causes the biggest amount of stress on the cattle and the producer.  One of the best investments a cattleman can make is a proper sweep system, which many also refer to as a tub and alley.  A good sweep system will allow cattlemen to gather small groups of cattle and flow them from the sweep tub down the alley and into the chute with as little stress as possible.  For the cattle, this means that the system needs to allow them to flow efficiently and quietly from one point to the other.  For the operator, the system should durable and easy to use.  Most importantly, the system should be safe for both animal and operator.

The first choice that a producer will need to make in selecting a sweep is to decide if they want an open-sided or a closed-sided sweep.  Closed sweeps are often called solid sweeps or sheeted sweeps.  For many, this is a philosophical choice about how one believes cattle flow the best – being able to see the producer or not.  Regardless of which you choose, it is important that the sweep gate flows smoothly and can be operated quietly in order to reduce stress on the cattle.  To reduce stress on the operator, the sweep should be easy to use and should include important safety features to protect the operator.  In most cattle handling systems, the sweep is the point where the highest level of pressure is being applied to the cattle, meaning it is also one of the most dangerous areas.  Look for a sweep gate that has a spring-loaded latch and multiple catch points inside the tub.  This type of safety feature will allow the gate to latch automatically and prevent it from being pushed back over the operator should the cattle spook or turn back.  
Another key aspect of the sweep to focus on is the angle or degree of the sweep itself.  While the most popular sizes are typically a 90 degree or a 180 degree sweep, there are other options available.  For small operations, a 90 degree sweep will offer an economic savings while still doing the job effectively.  Larger operations often opt for a 180 degree sweep, though many are beginning to look for a 135 degree sweep instead.  This angle helps to eliminate a corner trap that can be found in the 180 degree design, helping improve the ease of flowing cattle from the tub into the alley.

Selecting the right type of alley is just as important as selecting the right type of sweep tub.  Again, producers are often faced with the choice of solid sheeted panels or open panels.  While both have their merits, many producers are now opting for a combination alley.  In the combo design, producers use the solid panels on the back side of the alley to block animals in the alley from being able to view the holding pens and the movement of pushing other cattle up to the tub.  Conversely, producers use open panels on the working side of the alley, which allows cattle to view the operator and to respond to their fight or flight response, making it easier for producers to move cattle up the alley toward the chute.  
Alley width is also important.  The alley should be wide enough to allow for easy flow, but not so wide that it allows smaller cattle to turn around.  For cow-calf producers, this often means that an adjustable alley is the best option.  To help keep stress low on the operator, look for an alley that can be adjusted quickly and easily, with no head-banging handles or knee-knocking levers sticking out on the working side of the alley.
Managing a beef production herd is not just stressful on the cattle, but it is often stressful on the producer.  In today’s cattle market, every producer is looking for an edge to make sure that they get every animal to market in top shape.  Next to a proper feeding program and the right animal health practices, implementing low-stress cattle handling techniques is one of the best ways to improve herd
health, feed efficiency, reproductive efficiency, and – perhaps most importantly – the mental health of the producer.  For many, this includes not only a change in their herd management practices, but also a change in the livestock handling equipment they use to implement those management practices.  This is where the experts at Priefert can help.  Each customer service representative is trained in livestock flow and handling system design.  Let them help you with free consulting and free CAD diagrams to ensure that the equipment setup that you get makes life “Easy on the cow, Easy on the cowboy.”  To get started designing your low-stress cattle handling system, visit Priefert.com or contact a customer service expert at 844-572-1741.