PREPARATION, planning and understanding livestock behaviour are the keys to avoiding injuries in stockyards, which are a major cause of lost productivity and can keep livestock producers and their staff away from work for weeks at a time.
Research commissioned by the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP) found that more than 21,000 working weeks were lost to injury in the mixed farming sector over a four year period to 2012, and this is a very conservative estimate based on WorkCover claims.
Animal welfare and livestock handling consultant Boyd Holden says educated people; sturdy, well maintained yards; and for cattle handling, a quality crush are good starting points to avoid the most common injuries.
Mr Holden has provided training in safe livestock handling for 10 years to workers in the live export industry and for sheep and cattle producers across the country.
“Good stockmanship is not new, and most people know exactly what they should do to avoid injury in the yards, but sometimes these things just slip your mind when you are in a hurry, so good prior preparation is the key to making sure everything goes smoothly,” Mr Holden said.
“First, ensure yards are well maintained. This includes repairing gate latches and hinges, removing loose timber and wire, and in cattle yards, making sure the crush is well greased and working properly.
“It’s good practise to rest livestock for 30 minutes or an hour before you take them into the yards so they are settled. Walking livestock to the yards will also help with keeping them calm and will make them easier to handle.
“Then, don’t overfill yards, especially small ones. If you end up with all bottoms looking at you, the animals are telling you there are too many, they are confused or too much pressure is being applied to them.
“It’s difficult to influence animals when they are too tight in the yards and they are more likely to injure you and hurt each other.
“An essential piece of equipment in cattle yards is a good crush. This is important for your safety and the welfare of the cattle. A good addition to the crush is getting a head lifter which will make it safer for the handler.”
Mr Holden says some of the most common causes of injury happen when gates are used to push cattle and can then be kicked back on people, when people carry out health procedures in a race, or when arms and hands are slammed between rails.
“To avoid injuries like this, absolutely never use a gate to push animals into a yard, and don’t slide a rail or piece of wood into the race behind animals to hold them.”
Design helps, and good yards are usually in ratios. For example, if you can fit eight animals in the race, the forcing yard should hold 16 but not be filled to more than eight, and so on.
“Good yards allow animals to flow through easily and minimise baulking. Good handling practices and well-designed yards assist with efficiency in the yards along with improving animal welfare and reducing risks to workers.
“And finally, if any animal gives you trouble and is dangerous in the yards, then producers should look at the implications and consider culling if required.”
Mr Holden says the yards are no place for young children or visitors.
If they do have to be there, it’s a good idea to train them in a basic job like operating a sliding gate where they are separated from the animals and can be supervised. You should also explain to them the risks associated with handling cattle in the yards.
More information on animal handling and safety in yards can be found in a video featuring Mr Holden, which has been produced by Meat & Livestock Australia, Livecorp and the Department of Agriculture.