Safety on the farm has become increasingly important over the past few years, with serious injuries and occasionally farmer deaths recorded while working with cattle of all breeds. For this reason alone it is worthwhile looking at your cattle handling facilities. Apart from safety issues, cattle yards make many routine tasks so much easier: tagging, drenching, vetting, weaning – the list goes on. If you don’t have a set of yards it is recommended that you consider adding them to your property. It will add value to your “patch” as well as cutting down cattle handling time, and give peace of mind when it comes to close encounters with your cattle, no matter what breed.
There are many designs of cattle yards but for those who struggle with what to do and where to start, we make the following comments. We (and, as appropriate, our vet) use our yards to halter train and for first-leading exercises, pregnancy testing, weighing, drenching, vaccinating, treating occasional mastitis, de-horning, castrating, nose-ringing of bulls, ear tagging, TB testing, and helping a new calf to drink/mothering on. It sounds as though we have quite a lot of problems with our cattle: we don’t, but it only takes one or two animals with “special needs” to cause a headache without proper facilities.
Further, our own vet advises that he will not now send any of his staff to treat animals on a client’s property unless he knows that proper and safe facilities are available as he is required to provide a safe work-place for his staff.
While there are many configurations for yards, the practical minimum requirement for a small number of animals is one pen and a short race long enough to accommodate one full grown animal, and fitted with a headbale. A headbale is not absolutely necessary, but it makes a huge difference on the odd occasion when we need to secure an animal. A cattle loading race is usually desirable as well.
The race needs to be 700-750mm wide, and the preferred height ranging 1500mm and 1650mm (1500 seems quite adequate). The length of a race should be 2000mm for the first animal and 1500mm for each additional animal. Remember that cattle don’t like to make sharp turns unless they know they are coming out into a wide space, so try to have cattle move into the race from a straight-on position.
A number of companies specialize in manufacturing componentry for stockyards, and we suggest you check these out and perhaps visit other Highland Cattle breeders and discuss yards with them before you start building.
There are a variety of theories on how to accommodate the horns in the race, with some having one side built higher than the other and some having “staggered” posts. Others have about three solid boards around horn-height so the horns can’t become stuck, however the cattle like to be able to see around them. We have found that given a bit of time, Highlanders will figure out for themselves how to position their horns to get through the race, but it is really helpful to get young cattle used to going through a race before their horns grow long. A walkway on the outside of the race allows safer handling for drenching and vaccinating – easy for the handyman to knock up!
Headbales/crushes. We chose the Prattley headbale because it seemed to us to offer better access for horned cattle and we thought that opening in a vee would help to dissuade animals from taking a dive through – this has proved to be the case; in handling our cattle for a myriad of reasons, our headbale has proved to be invaluable.
Before building yards, have a good look around, check with farmers who have yards and ask how if they would make any changes if they were building a new set. Pay particular attention to where you site them as well. You will never regret investing in good cattle handling facilities.