Categories: ZambiaPublished On: 15th June 2017

How to handle your beef cattle – Part 8: Lifting apparatuses, field pens, hay racks and watering systems

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Autumn is upon us and all the summer harvests are almost on the market or in the silos. Soon we shall have more time to spend with our animals. The abovementioned accessories will definitely make the job easier during the demanding winter months. This is the eighth part in our beef cattle handling series and this month we look at lifting apparatuses, field pens, hay racks and watering systems. We thank the ARC-Institute for Agricultural Engineering in South Africa who made their manual on handling facilities available to the readers of ProAgri Zambia.

Lifting apparatus for lame cattle

Many animals become lame and find it difficult to stand up. It is usually caused by disease or a poor nutritional condition or the nerves in the pelvis which were bruised during difficult calving. If the animal should remain lying down, the blood circulation is cut off as a result of pressure, which in turn will cause muscle degeneration.

The end result will be that, even if the original disease is cured, the animal will still not be able to rise to its feet as a result of the muscle degeneration. The other problem is that the urine and solid excretions must be discharged as normally as possible, namely in the standing position. It is therefore necessary to use the lifting apparatus to keep the animal in the standing position until the disease is cured. It is, however, very important that most of the weight must be carried by the chest portion of the animal and not the abdominal part. . Figure 1 shows the construction of the lifting apparatus.

Artificial insemination

When artificial insemination (AI) has to be done in a handling complex, a separate crush with the AI-facility should be used. The AI facility can also be installed in the hospital camp. The reason therefore is that animals associate the normal crush with instruments such as neck clamps and tilting tables which may sometimes cause pain. This association makes the cow more anxious, and this results in a lower conception rate. Figure 2 shows a typical AI facility. It is essential that the AI facility should be designed and constructed in such a way that the handler has easy access to the animal.

Cows are much more at ease in a dark AI facility. The sides, tops and front are made of non-transparent material, so that the compartment has a dark atmosphere inside, which has a calming effect on the cow. A chain can be hooked in behind her to keep her inside. After insemination she moves through a gate at the front or side.

Hay racks

Hay racks must only be used for providing the animals with hay and must be designed in such a way that it limits wastage to the minimum. It must preferably be portable. Cattle graze with lowered heads and the hay racks must be placed in such a position that they can graze in the same natural position. If animals take hay from high racks with the head and neck stretched upwards, they tend to waste by pulling the hay down. The animal should poke its head through partitions to get to the hay. To a certain extent, this prevents competition of the intake of feed by lateral thrusting movements of the heads. Figure 3 shows typical high hay racks.

Handling pens

After thorough consideration, various components of handling pens can be combined to provide for specific requirements.

Field pens

In the commercial cattle industry, it is sometimes convenient to have a number of handling pens in the field. The handling pens make it easier to handle the cattle because they can be handled in the field and do not have to walk great distances to get to handling pens. These pens are simple to use and can easily be erected at watering points in the camps. Cattle usually gather near watering points and will then be close to the pen to be handled. The pens usually consist of a crush with a neck clamp, sorting pens and a water trough.

If possible, a pen should be placed in a spot where it can serve a number of camps. A four-camp or six-camp system can therefore be provided with a single field pen with a watering point. If there are only loose camps, the pen can be laid out in such a way that it has two watering points to serve two separate groups of cattle at a single pen.

Stock watering systems

Each stock watering system usually consists of:

  • The water source – this is either a borehole, a fountain or a permanent stream.
  • Inlet pipe to the main storage location.
  • The distribution network to the water troughs – this can include interruptions, pressure releases and buffer reservoirs.

Water requirements of cattle

A number of factors, including the time of the year and the nature of the grazing, influence the amount of water that cattle need daily. It also varies from region to region and the figures are not rigid. Table 1 shows the water requirements of cattle under normal circumstances.

Total number of cattle dependent on a drinking trough

If more than one water point per camp is provided, the water requirement can be distributed over all the water points. Table 2 can be used as a directive for the distribution. It shows the percentage of the total number of cattle per camp dependent on each water point.

Watering times for cattle

The daily amount of water needed at a drinking trough is determined by the type and number of cattle that drink there. The daily drinking time is determined by the grazing habits of the animals, which are determined by the camp sizes. In large camps, cattle tend to graze in herds and then go and drink as a herd. Drinking takes place in a relatively short time. The water provision network must then be able to provide the full water need of all the animals in the herd in a short time. For design purposes, a time span of four hours, or five litres per animal per hour, is recommended. In smaller camps, the tendency to herd forming is lower. The animals are usually near the drinking troughs and sufficient water must be provided per day. Ten hours of drinking time per day is recommended for design purposes.

Next month we shall widen our horizons by looking at the handling of cattle in large-scale commercial farming. Published with acknowledgement to the AR-Institute for Agricultural Engineering for the use of their Beef Cattle Handling Manual. Visit for more information.

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Figure 1: Lifting apparatus

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Figure 2: AI facility

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Table 1: Water requirements of cattle under normal circumstances

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Table 2: Water distribution over watering points

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Figure 3: Typical high hay rack

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Figure 4: A field pen where cattle can be handled with ease.

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Figure 4: A fi eld pen where cattle can be handled with ease.

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