Basic considerations of livestock handling
Animal welfare practices have been introduced and enforced through livestock marketing and trade protocols.
21 July 2021 | Agriculture
Handling livestock is always a risky exercise that can culminate in significant livestock injuries and deaths on farms because of improper livestock handling and inappropriate handling facilities.
Agribank's technical advisor for livestock and rangeland, Erastus Ngaruka, says these risks are not only limited to animals, but also people who work with animals, such as veterinarians.
“Apart from risks posed by handling animals, the production environment can also be hazardous,” says Ngaruka.
According to him, farmers should note that the physical handling of animals on a farm is part of the 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.”
Ngaruka says 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, a 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.
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,” says Ngaruka.
He says 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 minimise 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.
All handling facilities should be well maintained and, most importantly, the farmworkers must be competent or skilled to handle animals and understand animal welfare principles and market requirements.
According to Ngaruka, 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,
He adds that many farmers lose animals during transportation due to stress, suffocation, injuries, thirst, hunger, and fatigue.
It is therefore advisable to follow proper transportation guidelines to avoid or minimise these problems.
“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, to your animals all the time, they have a message for you about their health, nutrition, and general wellbeing.”