Handling facilities


2 min read

Head bails and crushes AI races Loading ramps These things help cow flow Things to avoid

Integrated cattle handling facilities, including head bales, crushes, and AI races, are essential for safe and efficient animal health tasks for both cows and handlers. The page covers the importance of designing these facilities with safety and ease of use in mind. From creating accessible crushes or head bales for treatments to designing herringbone-style AI races and loading ramps, these features can make a significant difference in a dairy farm. The right designs not only enhance cow flow but also help in avoiding hazards. Thoughtful planning and integration in new builds can make the entire system more effective.

Well integrated cattle handling facilities such as head bales, crushes and AI races make it quicker and safer to complete animal health tasks for both stock handlers and cows.

In new builds consider the integration of additional facilities – this ensures the best use of space and that the yarding system can cope with the full range of activities required.

Integrated handling facilities.

Head bails and crushes

Head bails need to allow easy and safe access to all parts of the cow.

A crush or head bail is essential for safely restraining cattle when carrying out herd health procedures. The design must ensure that cattle are held securely. This is particularly important for large herds in which large numbers of cows are treated for lameness or calving difficulties.

When designing a head bail ensure:

  • The crush or head bail is accessible from the dairy exit race or holding pen.
  • All parts of the cow are easily and safely accessible for treatment within the restraint.
  • Head bails have a quick release so that if a cow goes down it will not be suffocated.

Example of a bad head bail.

Example of a good head bail.

AI races

Herringbone-style AI races should be designed like the left-hand side of the herringbone.

Although efficient time-wise, dairies can be uncomfortable and dangerous places for vets and AI technicians to work. The association of painful procedures to the dairy can also affect future milk let-down, so painful procedures are best performed elsewhere, and a race is often more convenient and practical.

When designing an AI race include these features:

  • Space in front of and behind restrained cows to allow access for handlers.
  • The race should be sized to hold batches that are easy to handle i.e. about 20 at a time, to reduce loading and unloading hassles.
  • In herringbone dairies:
    • Put the AI race next to the herringbone rather than in front or behind.
    • If the race is a herringbone style it should be like the left-hand side of a herringbone, as this suits AI technicians.

Loading ramps

When designing a loading ramp include these features:

  • Sufficiently narrow that a cow cannot turn around.
  • Lead up to a level platform, so that cattle can balance before entering and after leaving the truck.
  • The ramp should have a slope not exceeding 20 degrees and the loading race should be 800mm wide with a non-slip surface.
  • Cows will avoid walking directly towards bright light and dislike being above the ground. Face the cattle ramp away from the sun and use solid fencing so the cows can’t see out of the side.
  • When loading cattle there should be no space where cows might get their feet stuck between the ramp and the back of the truck.
  • The position of the cattle ramp should not interfere with the functions of gates, races, and other existing facilities.

Herringbone AI race.

Loading ramp.

These things help cow flow

  • Wide, clear, well-lit pathways
  • Allowing visual contact with other animals moving ahead, so cows can follow others
  • Clear, unobstructed views towards the exit, or where cows are meant to move
  • Blocking or screening any views of stationary cattle adjacent to a race, as this will slow movement

Things to avoid

  • Sudden changes in lighting, floor surfaces/textures, levels, and fence or wall types
  • Changes in race construction materials or floor types
  • Walls painted in more than one colour (avoid contrasts)
  • Changes at critical points along the route, such as gates and entrances
  • Moving or flapping objects along the route, solid (or painful) obstructions
  • Noisy, dusty, or uncomfortable environments
  • Places where painful procedures have occurred
Last updated: Sep 2023

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