January 24, 2020

Rural facilities

Importance of rural facilities for animal welfare
By Veterinary Doctor Rodolfo César Acerbi

rcatolosa@hotmail.com )
In most professions and trades, the highest investments are made in the place where the main activities are carried out. These investments, which focus on improving the functionality and safety of the centre by acquiring and applying last generation technologies, will result in more efficiency and efficacy.
Therefore, we could assume that rural facilities would also be included in these principles. As an example related to this way of thinking, we could define a calf fattening ranch as a good quality beef production firm.

The rancher-businessman in charge of the firm would not neglect the handling of his capital assets (the calves), when they are taken to his rural facilities (pens, funnels, chutes, trap gates, etc) where the planned sanitary procedures are followed.

This looks like a rule of thumb, but this characteristic marks the difference between a rancher-businessman and the owner of a plot of land with cattle in it.

The latter does not measure or asses the damage caused to the meat of animals (the asset to be taken care of) when they are beaten or mistreated due to bad maintenance and/or inadequate design of facilities. Besides, he is convinced that roughness to bovines in the chutes is part and parcel of working efficiently with animals, just because this is what he has learnt from his ancestors.

Nowadays, the value of livestock goes from $600 to $2,000 depending on the category and this makes it necessary to take good care of every single muscle of the animal.

In other words, each kilogram of muscle produced for the internal and external markets requires good animal care and management; and although there is a high demand for beef, profitability is uncertain.

Investments in purchasing or improving rural facilities have a convenient depreciation because long-lasting materials are used. Therefore, the cost – benefit rate is positive.

Maintenance costs are minimum considering their value and the frequency of the operations; and most of the times, the ranch personnel can perform the necessary tasks to keep the facilities in good working condition.

I have attached the picture of a highly functional loader/unloader. It is very useful because the ramp can be lengthened 1.50m parallel to the ground leveling it to the floor of the cage in the truck so the animal will not distinguish where one plank finishes and the other one starts. It must have blind walls; if the animal is not able to see anything at the sides, it will move forward easily.

I have attached very simple plans of chutes designed by Dr. Rebagliatti, a member of our team for Animal Welfare in the Faculty of Veterinarian Science in Tandil UNICEN.

Aerial photography makes it possible to observe other models. They must always have curves to allow bovines to see ahead of them, at a distance equivalent to one and a half animals. If the animal feels there is a way out, it will move forward and circulation will be easier.

It is advisable to remember that animals can memorize odors and events for a long time –for as long as three years according to studies.

Therefore, it is important to keep the chute clean and free of used containers. It is also convenient to treat animals well to prevent them from getting nervous. As you know, milking cows are willing to go to the sheds because they get their food ration and they get rid of udder pain when they are milked. The same principle applies to calves for the beef  industry, so do not shout or act in a hurry, do not use dogs or electric prods and avoid pushing animals with horses.

In general, rural practices differ from the sensible advice given in the previous statements.

Lack of adequate or well kept facilities is very common in our country. Many ranchers try to justify themselves by using false arguments, such as the small size of the livestock farm or the high price of rural equipment. A lot of cattle ranches work under such bad conditions that they suffer losses, as animals do not reach their ideal weight because they are beaten or mistreated. In many cases, even the personnel physical safety is at risk due to unsatisfactory working conditions.

Adequate and well kept livestock facilities in accordance with Animal Welfare principles are the evidence of serious and responsible investment decisions made by the rancher-businessman.