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Our steak in transportation

Diane Prather

It’s been a full day of working cattle, and voices are worn out, legs are tired, and all of the help has left for the house.

How many times has this ranch scenario repeated itself?

For the cattle, now settled in for the night, the day probably hasn’t been a breeze, either.

Working cattle is never easy, but there are things a rancher can do to minimize stress and injury to the cattle, leading to a quality product and more profitable operation, and perhaps a less stressful and safer time for the rancher, too.

Travis Hoffman knows about Beef Quality Assurance. It’s his job. Hoffman is the BQA Coordinator, working for Colorado State University Animal Sciences and for the Colorado Beef Council.

Some of the bigger jobs on the ranch involve transporting cattle. Consider this, for example.

Cattle are moved from summer pasture and back. Calves are weaned, cows are culled, and cattle are moved to market. All of these jobs may involve some form of transportation.

In the fall, particularly, there’s an increased amount of cattle on the road.

Through all of this, the stock trailer is crucial to the cattle operation. So to minimize breakdowns, Hoffman reminds ranchers to check tire conditions and air pressure, and to make sure that brakes work – common sense chores that sometimes get neglected on extra busy days.

Hoffman said the trailer flooring should be kept clean. Footing on wood floors can be improved through straw and/or sawdust.

To reduce animal stress and injury, Hoffman also recommends not exceeding density or weight capacity of the trailer’s gross vehicle weight rating.

For example, a 20-foot long, seven-foot wide trailer has the holding capacity of 18 600-pound calves or nine 1,200-pound cows.

The gross vehicle weight rating for the above example would be 10,800 pounds. (Refer to the pullout above for more information.)

Animal stress (and that of the rancher) also can be avoided by proper loading.

“Know your cattle, “Hoffman said. “Working with cattle, not against them, helps when loading.”

Hoffman suggests considering the combination of three things.

First, understand the vision of the cattle – which direction they’re pointing. Before opening the gate, make sure the cows or calves are pointing in the direction you’re aiming to go.

Secondly, realize how close you can get to the cattle before they move (the flight zone). And third, recognize the point of balance. For example, if a person moves to the front of a steer’s shoulder, the animal will move back, but if a person moves back from the shoulder, the steer will move toward the trailer.

In addition, Hoffman said, “It’s important to realize the animals you’re working are often in a new environment. With this new change in their lives, it’s the small things that can agitate, resulting in a miserable experience for the cattle and the handler.”

It’s also important to minimize the distractions of the cattle working facilities. Make sure the facilities are in good working condition. Fix broken boards, protruding nails, and loose tin. Have the working area well-lit.

Hoffman said that driving aids can be beneficial for moving cattle. Options include: fiber glass rods, whips, paddles with rattlers, and prods with flags on the ends.

He recommends using these as visual tools to move cattle. He added that electric prods should only be used when cattle stall and only as a last resort.

Hoffman said an often forgotten addition to operation profitability is the marketing of cull cows.

He said to make sure that these cows are healthy, have an adequate body condition score, and are mobile.

Hoffman said nonambulatory cattle are not allowed at the auction markets or processing plants. They’re prohibited from being sold for slaughter.

He added that it’s important to remember that, in an aim to reduce stress and eliminate bruising of carcasses, cattle of any age should not be mishandled.

Transporting animals from farm to farm or to the market must not jeopardize the quality of product and may lead to a more profitable operation.

For more information, visit http://www.tbqa.org.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2009.


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