During evening milking in a Sussex herringbone parlour, I realised the true value of good health. I was there to collect some milk samples direct from the cows’ udders prior to any potential contamination from the milking equipment. These samples would enable the identification by on-farm culturing of the bacteria that was causing mastitis on that unit. With one broken, and a second damaged finger on my dominant right hand, I became totally reliant on the cooperation of the milking staff for collection of the samples I needed. I asked myself the question, do dairy farmers buy cattle crushes to protect themselves from being hurt by handling cattle or is there another reason?
I could imagine a beef farmer with large numbers of nearly feral cattle, wild, un-handled and at best extremely temperamental generating the need for some pretty heavy duty handling equipment. In years past, only the youngstock needed regular handling, with the administration of medicinal treatments of adult cattle being a single occurrence probably causing a headache for the stockman one day per annum. TB testing however changes everything by, depending on the severity of the problem in the area, necessitating the regular handling of adult cattle, youngstock and calves several times a year.
Delving into the issue, I was shocked to find the sheer scale of the expense that goes into the process of TB testing. I heard of scenarios where, on dairy farms that were having to test several times a year, up to five men were required for eight hours to enable the vet to TB test 600 cattle. Who will pay for this extremity of service post Brexit? I haven’t had an answer yet.
When you consider that a mower, a piece of equipment a farmer uses probably two or three days a year, costs between £8,000 and £12,000, a hydraulic powered squeeze crush with neck stretching head gate that enables efficient handling of cattle seems like a bargain if it cuts the number of people needed for TB testing, or drastically cuts the time taken to conduct the testing process.
I spoke to Edward and Catriona Penty of American Squeeze Crush Systems Ltd. Since 2004 they have been importing Pearson squeeze crush from America, and, having adapted its design to suit the needs of European and specifically the United Kingdom farmer went on to design and produce their own hydraulic squeeze crush, the “Raging Bull” product range that includes a neck stretching head gate. This crush is claimed to optimize the time needed for TB testing to the limiting factor, namely the speed of the vet. What is more impressive in my opinion is the way the crush cuts the amount of labour needed.
The comments from customers make impressive reading. They claim that they can do several hundred with one person delivering cattle as quick as the vet can work. A big statement, I understood how this can be achievable as soon as I saw the design. It’s a wide crush. Viewing it with empathy for cows, it looks safe enough to travel through. What I like is that the head gate moves inwards behind the animals’ peripheral vision. Catching a wild beast charging through is easy, it’s the timid beast that won’t push through that take time and staff effort to engage for testing. The hydraulic head gate pulls them in. No waste of time, hollering, taunting, pushing or forcing cattle, just a calm extension of hydraulic pressure delivering cattle quietly, easily and in the right position for testing.
One comment in particular made me laugh. A farmer grazing 850 extremely free range Angus cattle on sand dunes and marshland stated that he had TB tested them all within six hours and the only thing the crush couldn’t do was pour him a cold beer at the end of the day. That is asking a lot. Nearly as much as we did at home as I was growing up, expecting to stay safe whilst trying to dose Charolais cattle between a gate and the hedge. You live and learn!