Working with livestock (Pig Tales)
(Editor’s note: Dr. Rich Barczewski is a retired professor at Delaware State University.)
Having worked with the various species of livestock over the course of my life, it has become very obvious to me that the most important thing to have when working animals is the proper facilities and equipment to get the planned job done.
In fact, I would say that one of the biggest mistakes that many people make when first getting involved with livestock is that they do not plan on how they are going to handle the animals when the need arises.
All livestock species need to be worked on a regular basis and occasionally an animal may need to be contained and restrained so that they can be properly handled, examined and treated.
Unfortunately, very few folks possess the skill sets that one might find on a ranch in Colorado, to get the job done in an open pasture, so some planning and preparedness is in order.
These things should be thought about way in advance of ever needing to handle the animals.
Prior to obtaining any animals, folks need to think of how they would plan on capturing, and restraining any animal for procedures like vaccinations, deworming, examination and treatments for injury and even pregnancy diagnosis.
My wife, who worked her entire career as a large animal veterinarian, can tell you horror stories of animals needing examination and treatment, running wildly across a pasture, impossible to catch because the owners never even considered how they would capture their stock when the need arose.
One interesting thing about handling facilities is that they do not need to be elaborate or expensive provided some prior planning has been done.
Most livestock owners do have pens, pastures and often sheds where they keep their animals and a properly placed fencepost, gate or panel can go a long way toward providing a place to capture and restrain animals when needed.
A larger operation might have more sophisticated handling systems consisting of chutes, gates, squeezes and head restraints but for someone with only a few head, these types of facilities may be cost prohibitive.
However, that does not negate the necessity of having some type of system to capture and restrain your animals.
With smaller operations, the simplicity of having a small pen where your animals are used to entering, can help make animal capture and restraint easier.
One other tactic that is sometimes used on larger operations is the use of livestock working dogs.
Occasionally, I get an opportunity to see firsthand or hear about situations where well-trained dogs, saved the day on the farm.
Well-trained livestock dogs can easily replace several people on the farm.
My first real experience in seeing what a true “livestock dog” can do occurred at an event that was held in Fair Hill, Md., known as the Scottish Games.
At that event, I saw my first, well-trained sheep dog, work a group of sheep in a flawless display of what a dog and its handler could accomplish.
I’ll never forget that day — as several dogs were on hand and worked groups of animals but the clear winner of the competition was a sight to behold as it worked a group of sheep through a maze that anyone experienced in handling sheep — would have called impossible.
Similarly, cattle dogs can do amazing things, locating, retrieving, sorting, and even loading groups of animals for their handlers.
While working dogs are extremely valuable, most small producers are unable or unwilling to invest the necessary time to properly train them for work.
Regardless, all producers, both large and small need to be set up to properly work their animals and need to have a plan on how they can get this job done for either routine or emergency situations on their farms.