Chalk Hill Farm Partners, Warham, Norfolk.
John Smith is the livestock manager for this farm business which runs 500 beef cows split into an autumn and spring calving pattern. The unit at Chalk Hill Farm houses about 220 head of beef cows and replacements.
The decision was taken to significantly increase the beef herd numbers and this needed some modification of buildings as well as a rethink on the handling arrangements.
The old system was located at the wrong side of the farm with the traditional buildings. It was starting to get a bit rough and also required at least 2 or 3 staff to make work when trying to do any significant stock work. The availability of staff was also becoming an issue as they could not always be taken from arable operations when needed.
The business put both the handling system and building upgrade out to tender with two firms to reduce time spent planning and researching. The handling system was chosen not just on cost but also to fit in with the farm timescale to minimise disruption.
The new system is built on a new area approximately 6 x 20 metres at one end of the housing. It comprises a system of flexible pens, forcing area into a 180 degree curved race which leads to a straight weighing section and on to the crush. In this way cattle flow is encouraged by making them think they are returning the way they came. Handling pens are designed around the average group size of 25 cows.
The race is fitted with one way gates to prevent backing and sliding doors close off the weigh area and crush. A short gated section between the race and crush provides easy access to the rear of animals for pregnancy diagnosis.
The crush is fitted with a head restraint and anti-kick device for additional animal control. An escape gap was put in to allow quick access to or escape from the holding pens.
The new handling system has provided significant labour saving despite the increase in herd number. Typically it takes about 2 hours to pregnancy scan 100 cows with the vet and one farm worker – a job that used to take at least a day with two extra workers.
Being able to weigh and handle animals easily and safely means that much more attention can be given to health and management issues.
Accident reduction is not quantifiable but there is certainly a perception that the risk of injury is lower. Both the animals and operators are much less stressed using the handling system.
Overall this system works well with the numbers and size of cattle involved. Additional features such as lighting and a bit of weather protection over the crush area would have been desirable but can be added at a later stage.