Basic considerations on livestock handling

05 July 2021 | Agriculture

Windhoek • Erastus Ngaruka

Handling livestock is always a risky exercise that can culminate into significant livestock injuries and deaths on farms because of improper livestock handling and inappropriate handling facilities. These risks are not only limited to animals, but humans (e.g. workers, veterinarians, etc.) are also highly vulnerable.
Apart from risks posed by handling animals, the production environment can also be hazardous. Farmers should note that the physical handling of animals on a farm is part of the daily or regular management tasks. These include vaccination, treatment, branding, dehorning, ear tagging, milking, and others.
In contemporary livestock production systems, the concept of animal welfare has become critical with increasing consumer ethical consciousness and preferences. To this end, animal welfare practices have been introduced and enforced through livestock marketing and trade protocols.
Moreover, penalties for improper practices are imposed on farmers at marketing. Basic animal welfare practices aim at caring for the physical and mental state of the animal. This can be achieved through, disease prevention, provision of water and appropriate diet, safe production environment, and humane handling of the animals.
The impact of improper livestock handling can result in irreversible losses, including deaths, fractures or broken bones, bruises on carcasses, flesh wounds, and infections amongst others. These in turn result in high veterinary costs, carcass condemnation, and loss of market and potential income. Handling livestock is always made much easier and safer with appropriate handling facilities and applied human skill and consciousness. This does not mean there will be no risks involved, but sensible health and safety are about managing the risks, and not eliminating them.

Risk reduction
Part of risk reduction entails farmers’ knowledge and understanding of the natural instincts and common behaviours of their animals. This will also help at the time of designing and setting up the handling facilities. For example, animals with a bad temperament or that can jump fences would need strong and higher fences to contain them.
Furthermore, animals also respond to their environment and handling, thus, when they are in a hostile environment and not used to human presence or are handled roughly, they respond aggressively. For example, new animals on the farm should first be kept close-by in smaller camps for some time until they are accustomed to human presence and handling.
Livestock handling is made much easier when all necessary handling facilities are in place. A good handling facility should be viewed as an investment to reduce labour and improve animal welfare or minimize stress and injury to animals and people.
These facilities include, a crush pen with neck clamp, kraals (holding and forcing pens), loading and offloading ramps, and dipping pits amongst others. All handling facilities should be well maintained, and most importantly, the farm workers must be competent or skilled to handle animals and understand animal welfare principles and market requirements.
Farmers should also maintain a safer production environment, for example, clean and hygienic kraal environments and beddings, safe disposal and storage of hazardous objects and chemicals, e.g. plastics, medicine bottles, bones, and batteries amongst others.
In addition, try to eliminate or reduce fierce competition amongst animals especially at feeding, watering, and breeding (e.g. bull fights). Furthermore, one critical management aspect for consideration is transportation. Many farmers lose animals during transportation, and this is due to stress, suffocation, injuries, thirst, hunger, and fatigue amongst others. It is thus, advisable to follow proper transportation guidelines to avoid or minimize these problems.
In conclusion, your farm productivity depends on the animal, the environment, and your management. These three factors need to be in harmony. Your presence in the kraal should not only be noticed during the time of physical handling of the animals, but maintain regular presence, mingle, feed, and groom the animals more often. Talk to your animals all the time, they have a message for you about their health, nutrition, and general wellbeing.
* Erastus Ngaruka is a Technical Advisor in Agribank’s Advisory Services department

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