Matching the Right Tool for Your Livestock

Your search for the ideal tool to handle your livestock should be based on a number of factors, including how much labor will be saved, procedures or operations that can be performed throughout the year, the age and skill level of the operator(s), how many animals are on the farm, and what tasks need to be done throughout the year. Here are a few things to consider.

1. Think you don’t need a tractor? Think again!

Although some sheep and goat producers don’t need a tractor, most operations would benefit from a small tractor, as they can lighten the workload throughout the farm. Even without implements, utility tractors equipped with only a bucket or bale spear can be used for a wide variety of farm tasks, such as handling hay bales and moving snow or manure.

  • Compact or subcompact utility tractors have been gaining popularity, even with those who already own large tractors. These machines usually range from 15 to 60 hp and are easy to navigate and fuel-efficient. Available features include gas or diesel engine options, four-wheel drive, PTO and three-point hitches – be sure to research which ones will best serve your needs.
  • Utility tractors at the high end of the horsepower scale can be used for mowing, raking and even baling hay. Newer models equipped with a front-end loader will likely have beet juice-filled tires, which acts as ballast when lifting heavy objects, such as round bales. Implements that can be added include a mower, blades (front or rear-mounted), post-hole digger/driver, and tillage tools such as plows, discs, harrows and cultivators.
  • When deciding whether or not to buy a tractor, make a list of all potential applications on your farm and ask if a tractor will help save time, preserve human energy, and add to the safety factor. If you’ll be operating the tractor in extreme heat or cold, look for a tractor with an enclosed cab. Prior to purchasing your new tractor, be sure to measure all building entrances and storage space, including door clearance and support structures.

A sheep stand is useful for show preparation, but not a necessity for all flocks.

2. Chute straight

Commercially available chutes should have at least two lengths of panels on each side to allow ample space for a line of animals. Panels are hooked together with long pins that drop through holes on the ends of the panels, and they can be arranged to suit the farm setup. Chutes should be relatively easy to move so they can be moved according to the task at hand. A guillotine entry should be equipped with a rope and pulley for smooth, rapid and quiet opening and closing action. A sorting gate at the exit end is helpful at weaning time and for dividing sheep into breeding groups or for sales.

Utility tractors are useful for moving hay bales from the field to storage. Make sure the tractor is equipped with weighted tires for added stability when using the front end for heavy work.

  • Make sure the holding areas on both ends of the chutes are spacious enough so animals can move around comfortably without being trampled. The ideal holding area includes gates that can be moved to accommodate the group as animals are moved through the chutes. This will help eliminate the need to have someone enter the holding area to move animals each time the guillotine is raised to receive more animals.
  • Chutes are also useful for treating hoof problems. A series of footbaths placed along the length of the chutes ensures that every animal steps in the medicated liquid.
  • Animals to be sorted for further treatment can easily be moved to a separate pen at the chute exit. Scales can also be part of a chute system and are especially useful for producers who keep growth records or to determine live weights prior to sales.
  • Goats can be trained to enter the chute with a bit of grain. Goats that are stressed (which can happen if they are forced) will often simply collapse and refuse to move, which can inhibit the movement of the entire group. While sheep that are collected in a tight group usually remain calm, goats that are close together can become aggressive toward one another. Always allow plenty of space in a holding area for goats, especially if the group includes mixed ages.

While high-tensile wire is suitable for sheep on pasture, sheep in tight groups should be confined with heavy panels and gates to prevent escape. Bottom: Goats tend to be more aggressive toward one another when they are crowded, and should be allowed ample space in holding pens.

3. The mind of sheep and goats

Prior to using working chutes, you should understand the basics of the predator/prey relationship. If sheep or goats are in a large area and must be captured for examination or treatment, it’s tough on both the animal and the human if the handling method is chase-and-grab. Animals remember good and bad experiences and are far more likely to remain calm for future handling if they aren’t treated roughly.

  • Small livestock are prey animals, and the handler is the predator. The best equipment in the world enhances, but cannot replace, the owner’s ability to influence the movement of the flock or herd with body movements. Prey animals have excellent peripheral vision and will react to even the slightest movements barely within their visual range. Sheep (and sometimes goats) tend to arrange themselves in a tight group when it’s time for “something” to happen, and savvy handlers can use that to their advantage.
  • Sheep and goats, especially meat goats, are strong and can do a lot of damage if handled incorrectly. Tame sheep can be difficult to move, since they tend to gather toward the handler rather than moving away and toward handling facilities. Goats are quite strong and have impeccable timing when it comes to head-butting. If goats are forced into a space that’s too small, handlers may find themselves the unintended target of a head-butt meant for a lower-ranking herd member.
  • Sheep that are separated from the flock, whether intentionally or accidentally, tend to panic and become agitated, so it’s important to make sure every sheep in a collected group remains with that group as they are being moved. If one sheep darts away from the group, step back, recollect the group and start over. Sheep tend to move toward light, so make sure you aren’t aiming them into a dark building or a shadowed area. Working slowly but steadily always pays off – sheep that are rushed tend to separate, and once that happens, plan on starting from scratch.
  • It’s no secret that sheep and goats are prone to parasites, and deworming is an important part of a parasite control program. Producers who use FAMACHA for determining the level of anemia in a sheep or goat sometimes monitor fecal samples. The producer who owns and knows how to use a binocular microscope, counting slides, digital scale and flotation solution to conduct fecal egg counts can track animals that are more prone to parasites and save a significant amount of money on vet bills. Contact a small ruminant specialist about obtaining FAMACHA training.

Sheep move easily into chutes if there are no obstructions at the end, and even better if they can see other sheep at the exit. Sheep and goat owners who use chutes find that they save time and energy and are able to work animals with minimal stress.

Animal Behavior

  • Prey animals, like sheep and goats, have excellent peripheral vision.
  • Sheep tend to move toward light.
  • Goats that are stressed will often simply collapse and refuse to move.
  • Sheep tend to arrange themselves in a tight group when it’s time for “something” to happen.
  • Goats are quite strong and have impeccable timing when it comes to head-butting.
  • Sheep that are separated from the flock tend to panic and become agitated.
  • Goats that are close together in a confined area can become aggressive toward one another.

Simple feeders made from PVC pipe and wood are suitable for small operations.

Make your tools multipurpose

Purchase items (hayracks, grain feeders, lambing jugs, etc.) that can serve more than one purpose. Even an item as simple as a wheelbarrow with double front tires (so it can be used with one hand) is a time-saver.

Read more: Preventing farm theft