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Head Bails and Crushes

  • Remember that animals remember! They certainly remember bad experiences (fear and pain) from handling in head bails.
  • There are many models of head bails and crushes on the market and cattle hate them all. Stock hate being pushed, captured and held by the neck, then squeezed and have pain inflicted by threatening humans.
  • With all this action, there’s an ever-present risk of getting your fingers crushed or worse. Be always on your guard - and have a fully stocked First Aid kit handy. Take your mobile phone to the yards too.
  • As modern equipment gets bigger, it generally gets noisier and more terrifying for animals. So stock are very reluctant to move forward, and when they do they often charge the apparent open space only to find they are hit by the sides of the head bail being closed on them when passing through. Is it any wonder they don’t like going through after that?
  • Modern 'crushes' have sides that can be moved in to squeeze (not crush) the animal and are very safe as the animal is totally immobilised.
  • Some crushes also have a nose bar that prevents the animal’s head moving sideways which is an enormous help to prevent injuries to fingers.
  • Many bails also have levers and various bits sticking out that are hazards for limbs, shins and heads.
  • Care is needed in using bars behind the animals rear end or hocks as they may be pushed by the animals if not in properly and injure the handler.
  • Make sure you know how to release an animal quickly from that particular model of head bail if it goes down. Many animals have been strangled in head bails as there is no way you can lift them up.
  • Use minimal pushing and hitting to get stock to put their heads in the bail. Try to let it see a clear way out of the bail - as an escape route to follow.
  • If you want a beast to go forward into a head bail, make sure nobody is standing in its sight at the front. Get them to come back behind its point of balance.
  • Using the 'tail jack' technique (forcing the tail up) to get the beast to move forward is an acceptable practice if carefully done. The animal’s tail must not be bent up or around to such an extent that it’s in danger of breaking.
  • Drenching in a head bail is much easier but can have disadvantages. First it is slow and secondly you may not be able to get the beast’s head up at the correct angle. The result may be a damaged gullet when giving boluses and drenching into the lungs.
Head bail operations
  • Tagging and reading tags. Cattle hate having the ears pulled and bent! When tagging cattle it’s important to use the head bail, watching out for the inevitable swipe of the head when the pliers cut in and cause pain. Make sure your fingers are not between the head and any metal parts.
  • If small brass tags have not been put in the correct place (dairy cattle) you will have to grab and maybe twist the ear to read it. Cattle hate this and will throw their heads around risking you getting your fingers injured.
  • Mouth inspections. Cattle are very strong even when held in the bail and unless you get properly positioned they will throw you around when you try to open their mouths.
  • Stand beside the cow’s head in the bail with your backside up against the bail. Have your feet slightly apart and well planted. Put your arm around the cow’s head in a half-Nelson head lock and pull it up, using your knees to rest it on if needed.
  • With your left hand find the gap in the cows mouth between the front and back teeth and pull its head up and its mouth will open. Hang on and use your right hand to push the lower lip down and look at the teeth.
  • This can be a dangerous exercise as their back teeth are designed as guillotines to cut grass. They can cut fingers just as easily and you won’t be able to retrieve them for re-attachment!
  • When an animal is in the head bail many tasks are done on other parts of its body - again usually inflicting pain or discomfort. So be aware of this if you cannot see the operator as the beast may react and injure you.
  • Check for any protruding bolts and nails that work their way out over time.

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