Safe Stockyard Design

Safe stockyard design

Prepared by the Queensland Government.

This film is a case study about safe stockyard design for the livestock industry featuring Australian Country Choice and Rob and Sarah Cook from Bundaberg. 

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 169MB)

Read transcripts b

Fiona

A lot of the injuries we see when people are in a hurry, they haven’t got decent yards to work in. They’ve been rushing, they want to get a job done quickly. Cattle are usually stirred up, people get stirred up and the combination never goes very well. It’s a very high-risk industry. Both the government and the industry needs to work together to find some sustainable safety changes to turn around that high fatality rate.

Ben

The core business we’re in, in Australian Country Choice, is putting a steak on a family plate and we’re looking to maximise efficiency here to give you the best product that we can. We’re a twenty one and a half thousand head facility. We turn over approximately 110,000 head a year. The intensive livestock industry has had a really big focus on staff safety and animal welfare and livestock handling. There is no doubt when building a facility – if you don’t get those right whatever you’ve built is not going to be a successful facility and it’s going to cost you more, so it’s really important that we educate our staff, provide them with the tools to do their job and also provide them with a safe facility to do their job.

Rob

I’m a fourth generation cattleman. We breed background fatten and then retail all our own beef. We can have up to three hundred head on this property. Design in yards is something that I’ve always been passionate about. I remember as a little kid, you know, Dad would be building the real thing and we’d be sitting in the dirt playing with sticks, designing our own yards.

Sarah

We employ a lot of people that aren’t that experienced with cattle handling so that safe and calm environment for both the workers and the cattle was probably key.

Rob

It’s a concept that a lot of cattlemen are starting to catch on to – with the wagon wheel design.

Fiona

A well designed set of yards goes a long way to prevent a lot of injuries to both people and cattle. If people have never put pressure on their cattle, they’ve never worked with their cattle and quietened them down they end up in the yards, in a meat works and the end user gets themselves into a really nasty situation. It’s a whole supply chain issue. We see hand injuries from working in cattle yards, especially with gates. Some slide gates are not very well made and they’re not made for the person. The cat-rails that surround those, we often see really bad head injuries from people running into those. People being gored by cattle, usually from working too closely with cattle or being in the yards and trying to do a task that’s just never going to match. And a little trip in a set of cattle yards, for an older person, can mean a horrific injury.

Ben

As a production facility, I suppose in the design of our yards, the three key areas were staff safety, animal welfare and fit-for-purpose. We use what they term “low-stress stock handling”. It’s about understanding where to press on an animal to get to the result you want. Where to stand at the gateway, which side of the animal you need to be on, when to release that pressure and understand when that animal has some fear and you’re too far in it’s flight zone.

Kev

The way the cattle are handled changes things a lot. If cattle load well on the truck it’s because the setup at the back has been good. We like open facilities where the cattle can see the people. You can work them from inside or outside the yards. Someone who’s not so highly-trained will need to work outside until they build their confidence.

Ben

They walk up with horseback, up into the processing yards. They go into a hay yard with water where they settle. Then we bring them up into a holding yard in smaller numbers and as we move through the facility we continue to reduce how many numbers are in each yard. Into this particular yard we’re standing in we probably have twelve to thirteen head. Take four head up into our bud box and then those four head run up into the race. We’re looking to minimise the risks to our staff and also create that positive animal welfare.

De

They’re gonna be comfortable, you’re gonna be comfortable because they’ve got plenty of room. You know, they’re not going to be trying to stand on top of you ‘cos they’ve got nowhere to go. So, as you go through, less is better.

Kev

You need to have some escape routes, simple man-gates or simple bollards which is just a hole in the fence which is big enough for a person to slip through.

Graham

If the whole setup is built right then we don’t have any trouble loading the cattle, everything normally goes a hundred percent smoothly. The cattle walk on as quietly as anything.

Hannah

There’s that natural flow, they’re not gonna turn around and fight and therefore made me feel a lot safer.

Ben

In terms of maintenance, we wash the shed out everyday for hygiene. We regularly clean the manure out of pens. We’re monitoring the depth of manure,you know, ensuring that the staff have safe footing to walk on, putting down some bedding in terms of our high-pressure yards to ensure some safety for staff and the cattle. The maintenance is ongoing everyday. It is a simple process and if done well it works really well. We inspect all the gates, all the chains, make sure there’s no loose rails. Anything in the yard that’s going to cause an incident to a staff member or an animal, that’s a “stop work and remove”. We conduct those daily three times and get it fixed so that everyone is safe.

Graham

One hundred percent safety is paramount ‘cos the last thing we want is a driver injured and transported away to a hospital from a fall or getting kicked by a beast.

Hannah

Within our team we have a great awareness of animal welfare and human safety. Therefore we’re not afraid to take anything to upper management if we feel that something is not safe and needs improving.

Kev

Every time it gets changed it’s been for the better. Change facility designs, changing the way we handle cattle, spending time with those animals, building up their trust and their confidence – a lot of those problems that we were creating ourselves have gone away.

Sarah

Safety for me was number one priority because often it’s down to me doing a lot of it.

Rob

At the end of the day if Sarah gets hurt everything stops. We had to build with the wheelchair in mind but what we found over the years is that you don’t have to be a great cattleman to work cattle in these yards. It’s an electric over hydraulic, joystick-operated block gate and five-way draft so I can sit there in my chair and as Sarah’s processing cattle I can either block them in the race and change the draft, or if I can see what’s coming I’ll change the draft prior.

Fiona

Some of those simple designs that Rob had put into place can also be translated to a family property where perhaps you’ve got older workers who really do need that separation and really can’t climb rails and do the things that they used to do. It’s putting the science behind it to come up with a really good design that’s very effective for cattle and very, very effective for people.

Rob

The beauty of the wagon wheel design as we call it is cattle can’t see the lead cattle hitting the end of one pen and turning back on themselves. They think they’re always moving forward and so they keep flowing. It all comes down to animal welfare and so our design, I think it addresses that. The handles on the slides, we put it at a height that if you are going to run into the handle when the slide gates shut it’ll be at your shoulder or elbow, not at your head or your knee. We’ve put guards around as many things as we can. Higher cat rails over our gateways so no one’s going to go belting their heads. Whenever we build something regardless of what it is we build it with safety in mind. And when we do build we try to build it right the first time so we’re not doing it ten times over. One of your most valuable assets are your employees because if they’re hurt and off, you know on worker’s comp, a couple of days in the hospital because of an injury, well then you’re not getting any production out of them. So it’s certainly something that everybody should take on board and take it pretty seriously.

Sarah

I think the beauty is too, it’s Rob and I can still talking to each other. Before we had someone else standing there and often we do employ backpackers so there’s that communication barrier. Whereas today Rob and I just speak to each other and he just does his thing and I do my thing. And it’s enjoyable now.

Ben

With cattle yard design I think it’s very important to understand that each operation is unique. We can all use the same principles but we’ve got to understand that fit-for-purpose.

Fiona

The right design for cattle yards is the design that works for you, for the enterprise that you’re running and for the type of cattle you have. We need to make sure that the people understand at least a little bit of animal behaviour and the pressure points for animals that make them flow. We need to make sure the stockyards are located in a place where animals will flow through nicely. If we have all of those things matching there’s a lot less stress to the cattle, there’s a lot less stress to the handlers, there’s a lot less injury.

Kev

You don’t need to spend huge amounts of money, you can build simple systems that work very well. You just need to think about them a little bit and that will make the whole system flow a lot better.

De

It was all just trial and error, what didn’t work, well, “right, I need to change that.” And then we got to where we are now and it works very well.

Ben

We have good staff, we have happy staff, we have healthy staff.

Graham

The drivers, they think it’s great because they don’t have to get in with the cattle. We’ve never had an injury here at Brindley Park, so that just says it all for itself.

Hannah

There’s less fatigue, it’s not as hands-on. I’ve got energy at the end of the day. I go home happy and I come back to work the next day happy and confident knowing that I can step into those yards and that I am safe.

Fiona

It’s just amazing, the change that has happened. The cattle are flowing really well. The added training and mentoring that they’re doing has really, really paid off.

De

It’s a culture. If one does it, eventually everyone’s going to do it.

Kev

Things are changing, changing pretty quickly and we’re going to see a complete evolution of the way things are done in the industry.

Rob

What used to take us all day with a hundred and twenty breeders, in the new yards takes us about three hours. It works for our situation. I think anyone that stepped into these yards would find that they’d work quite well for them.

Fiona

They did a lot of research and they’ve come up with a fantastic design that suits them and the way that they need to work. If you can fix that gate that doesn’t swing properly, if you can pick up that piece of wire, if you can grease that hinge, please do that. Don’t wait until it becomes a huge job. If we don’t do that maintenance on our yards it doesn’t matter how well designed they are, it doesn’t matter how well trained your staff are or how quiet your cattle are. Make sure you’re not putting yourself or anybody else in an unsafe situation. I would love to see a day when there’s zero injuries to people in a stockyard and just as importantly, zero injuries to animals.