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Animal Handling

WAgN and PASA members learn the basics to handling various species of animals safely and humanely.

The Animal Handling Workshop for New & Beginning Farmers was held on 

May 29, 2013, at The Sundance Life Farm in Bradford County.

Information Shared:

1) Animal Diet and Health-

Different species of animals require different diets to maintain good health. 

Ruminants, such as goats and cows, have four sections of stomach. They survive well on a diet of hay and grass alone. Non-ruminants, like horses and pigs, have a harder time capturing nutrients from pasture and cannot survive on a diet of only grass and hay. 

The diet and health of pregnant animals need to be monitored more regularly than usual. Some animals, like goats, have a tendency toward diet related issues like preeclampsia. 

Sheep are sensitive to copper levels within their food, so be sure to monitor the copper levels in their fields periodically. In fact, it is always a good idea to monitor grazing fields for a variety of nutrient levels, which helps to maintain the health of both the animals at pasture and the pasture itself. Different organizations can examine your soil nutrient contents, including University extension offices and local conservation districts. 

 

2) Animal Moving Techniques and Aids-

An animal’s response to humans will be partially determined by how it has been socialized. As such, be careful not to treat farm animals like pets when they are young. They may develop habits that are cute when they are small, but can become dangerous as they grow. 

Keep in mind the range of vision that an animal may have, and the locations of their blind spots. Livestock usually have a range of view between 270 and 300 degrees. They generally have blind spots directly in front and behind them. To determine which direction they are actively looking, watch for the direction that their ears are pointing. 

To get an animal to move, advance into their flight zone. This is a bubble of personal space that will make them uncomfortable when invaded. Approach the flight zone from behind to make an animal move forward, and from the front to make them retreat. When attempting to move a number of animals at once, encouraging the movement of only a few will ripple out to the rest. 

Try to keep a building well lit when moving animals. Animals move best from dark to light spaces, rather than light to dark. 

When trying to move one animal, it may be best to bring along extra buddies for encouragement. For example, to move one cow, bring three cows instead together, and then lead two cows back to pasture.

Handling aids may be used to encourage an animal to move should difficulty occur, or can be used to increase the size of the flight zone. There are a number of different handling aids that can be used, depending on the species and personal preference.

o Rattling paddles: used to rattle and block vision, not used to touch an animal

o Short whip: used to tickle, not used to hit an animal

o Sheppard’s hook: used to grab the neck or gently prod an animal

o Chicken catcher: wire hook used to grab the legs of chickens

o Electric prod: must be used appropriately; make use of the buzzing to warn an animal, use in self-defense against an aggressive animal, always use as a last resort, only touch an animal briefly and never hold it on them

o Halter: a good lead to use on different livestock, won’t strangle an animal if used to tie them up briefly. Never loop a lead in your hand, only fold it. This will prevent injury, if an animal moves suddenly. 

o Restraints: use if needed for medical treatment or transportation

o Anti-kick restraint: goes over a cattle’s haunches

3) Animal Holding Techniques-

When holding animals for any reason, be sure to keep these tips in mind:

Cattle are easily subject to heat stress, so be mindful not to keep cows inside a barn that is above 80 degrees for very long. Watch cows for panting, which is the first sign of heat stress. 

Chickens may be carried upside-down, by the legs. This must be done with care if the chicken is heavy, however, because their legs can break more easily. Chickens may be immobilized by holding down their wings.

-Blinders may be used, a plastic device placed upon the beak, to prevent pecking between chickens

Rabbits may be carried by the scruff of their necks, in one hand, and the back legs in another hand. 

Always consider what an animal’s natural defense mechanisms may be, before handling them.

Have an emergency plan in place, and always know where you can exit an enclosure, when handling animals.

 

4) Pasture Maintenance-

It is important to maintain good pathways in and around pastures. Cows and other livestock are prone to foot and leg injuries, which can be minimized by maintaining paths. One of the best ways to do this is by inserting geo-textile cloth below pathways to help even drainage.  

Type of pasture fencing may depend of the animal. For instance, fencing for pigs does not need to be very high. In addition, electric coil gates are often more effective and easier to use than panel gates to pasture.

To maximize pasture nutrients, keep animals on a rotation where they do not use a field for 12-24 days. This may be a challenge, and so a rotation of 4-5 days may be more practical. This is still a decent amount of time to allow pasture growth. 

Be aware of what trees or plants are near your pastures, as some may be poisonous. For example, Red Maple trees are very poisonous to horses. 

Parasite Control is very important to keep your animals healthy. In order to manage the prevalence of parasites, try following some of these tips:

Face and horn flies lay their eggs in manure, so manage the amount of patties in your fields. This can be aided by minimizing pasture size and practicing good pasture rotation and animal rotation techniques. 

Barn and horse flies also lay eggs in manure, but in barn areas. Make sure to manage the prevalence of manure in barn areas, as well. 

If your fly population is out of control, the introduction of parasitic wasps may help. These wasps lay their eggs in bothersome flies.

Sheep, goats and cows share many of the same parasites. It is better to mix each with horses, pigs or chickens than with each other. 

Resources: 

Humane Livestock Handling, by Temple Grandin 

Poisonous Plants of Pennsylvania, by Robert James Hill