By SUSAN MYKRANTZ
WOOSTER, Ohio — From the time The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI) first opened its doors more than 30 years ago, its purpose was to provide hands-on, real-world experiences for its students.
The combination of classrooms, laboratories and a working farm not only gives students the opportunity to learn theory, but obtain practice they need, according to Dr. Nels Hansen, chair, Agriculture and Engineering Technologies Division, ATI. The dedication of a new livestock handling facility on the Grace L Drake Land Laboratory is one more way the school is fulfilling its mission to invest in students.
“Our students need to understand how to work with livestock,” said Hansen. “This facility will show producers how to work with their cattle safely and effectively.”
Renowned animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, of Grandin Livestock Handling Systems, Inc. from Fort Collins, Colo., designed the ATI facility. Her design uses a system of curved chutes combined with a round crowd pen.
Grandin explained cattle have a tendency to head back in the direction from which they came. The round pen moves the cattle through a 180-degree turn, thus working with rather than against their natural behavior. The curved chutes allow the cattle to see 2-3 animal lengths ahead.
This is important, according to Grandin, because cattle will refuse to go somewhere if they cannot see a place to go. The curved design also conceals livestock handlers, whose presence might make cattle balk. These measures reduce the amount of stress cattle experience during handling.
Dr. Stephen Boyles, professor of animal sciences, said the new facility would promote animal welfare. He said one of the goals of the Beef Quality Assurance program has been to reduce the bruising and abscesses in cattle, often caused by injections into the wrong muscle groups.
“We need this corral for the welfare of the animal, to prevent bruising and not stress the animal,” he said. “We are in the cattle business because we like cows, it is the greatest thing in the world to work with cows. But cows work better when they are worked slowly.
“It is amazing how people who have been around cattle a long time work slowly, and there is a lot less yelling.”
Boyles said the corral was designed to move animals safely and easily. “Notice the gate position,” he said. “They encourage the animal to move forward. The alley has a slight angle so it is easy for the animal to turn. Cows can see 340 degrees, they can see a lot more than we do, they are easily distracted.”
He added the alley should be 10-12 feet, wide enough for 2-3 animals to walk through but not wide enough for them to turn and scatter if they get spooked.
During construction, ATI made several modifications to the facility design to make it better suited to the teaching mission. First, ATI increased the size of the work area under roof at the hydraulic squeeze chute to accommodate a large number of students for such activities as breeding, administering vaccinations and freeze branding.
In addition, it moved the motor for the hydraulic chute outside to reduce the noise level at the chute and reduce stress on the cattle.
Second, an automatic waterer was incorporated into the facility in the sort-and-hold pens. To accommodate the number of students in ATI’s livestock programs, cattle may be in this facility for more hours than would be typical in a commercial facility.
As a teaching facility, the, same laboratory exercises might be repeated three times in one day with three different groups of students. The addition of the waterer helps keep cattle more content in the facility for a longer time.
Finally, handlers have the option of restraining several cows at once during breeding season, with the addition of a second single file alleyway leading into a breeding box. This will allow multiple students to learn breeding skills at one time.
“This facility is a great asset in providing a venue for teaching our Ohio State ATI students about proper beef cattle handling and facility design,” said Dr. James E. Kinder, interim director of ATI. “It will also be highly useful in working with beef producers in outreach engagement endeavors.”