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On average, two workers are killed and over 100 injured every year by cattle. Therefore, cattle handling, particularly in confined spaces, is amongst the highest risk livestock tasks.

Injuries and accidents can happen to the most experienced of handlers but often involve poor equipment. Further to safety, good handling equipment and systems can save time and labour contributing to an economic saving.

North Ayrshire Monitor Farmer, John Howie of Girtridge Farm, North Ayrshire often handles large numbers of cattle by himself.

Mr Howie commented:  “It was obvious I needed to improve the financial performance of our cattle and regularly monitoring growth rates was essential. To do this, investment in a new handling system was required which allowed handling of cattle efficiently, safely and without extra labour. In addition, new weighing equipment and EID tags were introduced."

Different handling systems and locations for the facility at Girtridge were considered. The new system was designed by the North Ayrshire Monitor Farm community group and cost approximately  £20,000. This cost included concrete and the installation of large gates around the steading to allow large groups to be moved easily with one person.

The facility is located under cover between the straw-bedded shed and the cubicle shed for quick and easy access for cattle. It  enables one person to move cattle through the steading to the handling system.

Other key features of the new system include holding areas for large groups of cattle externally and internally in adjacent sheds, a forwarding pen, a forcing IAE Rotex pen, a race with inspection gate, a shedding gate and a crush with chin scoop.

"The forcing IAE Rotex pen is curved in a semi-circle shape to help the flow of cattle through the system," said Mr Howie.

"The forwarding pen doubles as a loading bank and there are three escape gaps in the system and operator safe working areas. The concrete floor is textured finished for anti-slip and the dirty water all drains to the slatted slurry tank," he added.

The new handling system at Girtridge has demonstrated several benefits according to Mr Howie. The more efficient system parallels to labour savings of 1 hour per handling, savings upwards of £1,200 per year. As well as the financial savings, the new infrastructure will greatly reduce the risk of Mr Howie, or anyone else working with stock, being injured.

The safety of the operator has been improved alongside the safety of the livestock, whilst increasing the handling capacity to manage bigger groups of cattle.

Mr Howie added: "The stress of the livestock has been reduced, particularly when loading and unloading which is now much safer. The new system allows better performance recording, including monitoring weights and daily live weight gains, resulting in overall increased efficiency."

Additionally, it allows Mr Howie to improve healthcare routines such as footbathing, clipping and vaccinating.

"Investing in a new cattle handling facility took planning, time and money," said Mr Howie. "It was the logical next step to help improve our beef enterprise and it was essential we got it right, to work for me, as well as the cattle.

"The impact this is having on our business is massive allowing man and beast to work safely, increasing turnover and improving efficiencies. Overall making our work more enjoyable," he added.

For more information about the monitor farm programme, visit www.monitorfarms.co.uk.