Animal Handling

| 4/3/2015 12:11:00 PM

One of the hardest aspects of farming or homesteading is balancing cost and utility. This is true of numerous aspects - fencing, buildings, cultivation, firewood production, storage. Take fencing as an example. It makes sense to me to put time and resources into building a perimeter fence that is solid enough to let me leave the farm for an afternoon without fearing that the animals will get loose. It’s something I rely on every day of the year, and so I need to trust it.

Lately I have been thinking about animal handling facilities in particular. Because they are only used when sorting a group or when sending animals to the slaughterhouse, it is easy to overlook them. It may be annoying to have a less than ideal setup, but it’s still manageable when it’s only used a few times a year.

I built a crude paddock out of old gates and spare fence posts, but it has not worked as well as hoped, so often, when I am sorting cows, I end up putting them in the barn and letting them out one at a time until only the cows I want remain inside. This works fine so long as I am patient, but it is time consuming and not terribly reliable; if a single wrong animal gets out it’s often back to square one.

Raising pigs has highlighted other issues with the current (lack of a) system. Though they are easier to lure than cows - a couple slices of stale bread are all it takes to command their full attention - they are devilishly good at getting under, between, and over barriers. Once a pig has its snout through a gap it seems like nothing can stop its body from following. To take the first five pigs to the butcher my brother and I built a holding pen and ramp out of pallets and hog panels, leading up to a well bedded box in the back of the truck. Between the two of us we got them in with a minimal amount of drama, but I was still bothered by it.

Within a few years, as the herds continue to grow, I will be forced to make proper handling infrastructure. But I am seriously considering making it a priority sooner, and I’m coming to think it would be worthwhile investment even if I wasn’t going to be dealing with any more animals than I currently have.

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