DEAR SIR: As a farm vet, I work daily at cattle crushes but I find about 95% of them are not fit for purpose.
The crush is supposed to accommodate cattle, comfortably and safely, causing as little stress as possible, allowing manipulation of these animals safely.
However, in my 49 years working as a cattle vet, I have seen very few crushes that allow this.
Most farmers seem to buy or build crushes based on specifications of people who never or seldom use them. The main problems I find are:
1 Placement – put in the wrong place completely – for example, the entrance alongside the parlour entry or, opposite to a direction cattle would normally go.
2 Entrance – too many gates and bars here, which makes it difficult for cattle to see where the entrance is. A wall or sheeting on both sides at the entry will greatly help guide the animals in.
3 Width – nearly all crushes are far too wide, some by at least a foot. Cows will usually put their heads down inside the one in front if the space is there, causing stress on both animals and people trying to access the head and neck – 28in should be the maximum internal width.
4 Height – cows, in my experience, very rarely try to jump out of crushes. Bullocks will try if overpacked. The most suitable height for cows is 48in.
5 Length – a maximum of five cows. This is the most that can be moved easily together, especially into a crush. Any more cows and they start backing out, causing more animal and handler stress, as well as wasting time.
6 Horizontal bars – through the middle of uprights which leads to cows banging and hurting themselves off the uprights. Horizontal bars should ideally be along the inside of uprights. Three bars are sufficient, placed strategically.
7 Uprights – often made of H iron that will hurt animals rubbing along them, especially if the horizontal bars are through the middle. These should be always round.
8 Exit – front opening often narrows at the head gate where cows again bang and hurt themselves on leaving. A side opening will allow the cows to leave without any stress or hurt.
9 Restraining bar at back – a simple gate that every farmer can weld together is far better and safer than a bar. I have seen quite a few novel, easy-closing gates on the back of crushes.
10 Stepway – too high and too narrow a step alongside the crush. There is no need for them at all really.
11 Wall in front of exit – if cattle don’t see a clear open space in front, they are very reluctant to enter the crush.
12 Materials – crushes are often made of angle iron or box iron, which may be rusty and sharp and will hurt animals easily. All material for making a crush should be round.
My message here is, if you are thinking of putting up a crush, please ask your vet about it as nobody knows better than he or she as to what you need.