There has been a flurry of new meat processing facilities being built recently and many of them have the same design mistakes I have been discussing for years.
Flooring is a major issue. I was recently texted a photo of a brand-new cattle stun box with a slick, hard troweled, smooth concrete floor.
Another slippery flooring material that is appearing in many new stun boxes is diamond plate steel. The pattern on diamond plate does not provide sufficient non-slip flooring. Cattle will not stand still on a smooth floor. They will often do multiple rapid small slips and be in continuous motion. To fix a steel floor that is slick will require either a rubber mat with a raised pattern or a grating built from steel rods welded to the floor. The rods should never be crisscrossed. They need to be welded directly to the floor.
In one small beef plant I saw, they made a mistake that I would have never predicted. They installed a single animal scale in their single-file chute at the entrance from the crowd pen. The cattle refused to walk on the floor that jiggled. Many of the problems are due to lack of knowledge because many new people are entering the industry and during this time, both large and small plants have recently opened.
Another area I constantly talk to people about is moving small groups of pigs or cattle. I was recently on a video call to Europe, and they had attempted to move groups of 20 pigs into a single-file chute. I told them that seven or eight would be a more appropriate number. Good handling requires more walking. I received another inquiry recently about excessive pig squealing in a V conveyor restrainer. The first thing that needs to be checked is to make sure that both sides of the conveyor are running at the same speed.
People who have been in the industry for a long time will often say, “Temple Grandin keeps talking about the same old things.” As many new people are entering the industry the same old things are new to them. Another issue that still has to be addressed is to stop people from making excessive noise. Some plant managers have taken paddles away because people kept hitting the fence with them.
Another issue that I have discussed for years is electric prod use. In many plants, the only place they are used is at the entrance of the stun box or restrainer. The vibrating prod that is constructed from an engraving tool is an effective device, but it will never fully replace an electric prod. It should be placed sideways against the animal. On one recent plant visit, I observed employees trying so hard to get rid of electric prods that they were causing bruises on cattle. Carcasses had bruises because the vibrating prod was stabbed directly down on the cattle. In these cases, an electric prod would definitely be preferable.
I also recently led a really good employee training session. Instead of having the employees watch the same video again, we had a question-and-answer session. It took some coaxing to get the handling employees talking but after the first question, they would not stop talking. They became motivated when they were being encouraged to become part of the solution to handling problems. Fortunately, this plant had an experienced bilingual translator and the Spanish speaking employees were able to fully participate.
We will always have to discuss basics, but we also have to solve new problems, such as cattle that are getting too fat to move through existing handling systems.
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