Cattle Handling Facilities

Handling facilities for dairy cattle vary greatly from the extremely basic to top-notch expensive systems with automated drafting facilities for sorting cows automatically as they exit the milking area. The complexity of the system is unimportant, as long as it functions well, includes a suitable crush that enables treatments to be carried-out effectively - particularly where hoof inspection and trimming is carried-out - and is safe for the operators and the cattle being handled. The crush, in particular, is one part of the system where the better the facilities the more likely that thorough and effective treatment can be carried-out.

Understanding cow behaviour is essential in designing and using an effective handling system. Cows dislike bright light or shadows, and changes in floor texture as they move through a handling system will upset them. Managing and handling cattle intelligently and sensitively will result in safer and more efficient work.

Regardless of the cost and complexity of the handling set-up, it needs to be designed with undamaged, non-slip surfaces where cows will not risk hoof or limb injury, and with good, even illumination, particularly if sited within a building. Cows move more easily and sure-footedly over a flat or slightly upward-sloping surface, so handling systems sited with cow flow on downward slopes and steeper inclines are much less suitable.

The race sides and gates must be free of projections, particularly near ground level. One thing to be aware of, where sheeted gates and hurdles form part of the handling set-up, is the potential for them to injure cattle feet and limbs, if they are badly-positioned or when they rust and become damaged over time. Footbaths can be integrated into the handling set-up but their positioning must be carefully planned to avoid cow flow problems if the system is sited on the exit route from the milking area. Any turns a within the race set-up should be designed so that they are not too tight where cows risk slipping and injuring themselves.