COLUMBUS, Ohio — Livestock auctions are public places, so those working with animals must ensure their behaviour is beyond reproach.
In the United States, members of the Livestock Marketing Association must follow codes of practice in animal handling.
“We are public businesses, and day in and day out,strangers can walk through, so our programs have to be shaped and moulded to meet that challenge,” said Kristen Parman of the association, which created a guide to animal handling.
The 820 members of the LMA voted in 2012 to make the livestock handling program a requirement for membership in the association.
Members who violate the rules or refuse to participate could be expelled from the association, she told the National Institute of Animal Agriculture’s recent annual meeting in Columbus.
The auditing firm Validus was asked in 2014 to provide voluntary third party assessment of handling and training. About five percent of members are selected for random assessments each year.
“Our program is based on assessments, not an audit, because it is an internal program,” she said.
The program includes employee training on livestock handling as well as dealing with downer animals and those requiring euthanasia.
The LMA board created an animal care advisory group this year made up of industry experts from multiple species to review, edit and advise on changes to the guidelines.
“We wanted universal standards that the auction market and their unique handling environment will be able to apply,” she said.
Management has to buy in and use the assessment to improve their auctions and make sure staff is properly trained. About 925 employees have been trained.
There are no surprise assessments. Facility managers know it is coming, but employees may not be informed because auditors want to monitor their behaviour.
Included in that assessment is noting whether employees ask visitors who they are and why they are there.
They are also encouraged to be aware of trucker behaviour, buyers and general public visiting the auction.
Seventy-seven assessments were conducted last year, and follow up will be done. Besides monitoring employees, auditors will look at gates, slippage on floors and safety conditions for employees and animals.
Producers are also reminded that they are responsible for assessing animals before loading and making sure they are fit to travel.
“Don’t bring your problems to town,” she said.
Far too many times there was a failure in handling at the farm and animals arrive at the auction in poor shape, said Mike Bumgarner, president of United Producers Inc., a co-operative of livestock markets across the U.S. Midwest.
His company handles 2.5 million head of cattle, hogs, sheep and goats at nearly 40 auctions and collection points throughout the Midwest.
“The livestock that comes in our facilities, we have to deal with them,” he said.
The choice may be to sell compromised animals out of the pen rather than sending them to the ring. When that happens, it may be difficult to convince the producer an animal was a problem.
Bumgarner’s members do not accept downers, but it is still an issue. They may arrive down in the trailer and have to be euthanized on the spot.
The markets have to work with a lot of producers who look at things differently because livestock is not their primary income. It is harder to educate them about animal care and transport, he said.
Employee awareness of livestock care and unknown visitors is emphasized. Everyone has a cellphone capable of taking video, and things can go wrong.
“Our employees have to know what is going on, not just with livestock but with people,” he said.
“As much as we train and educate our employees, when they are moving livestock sometimes the livestock does not do what you think it should do and somebody wants to make an issue of it.”
Many auctions have video surveillance for theft control, but those recordings can also be checked for complaints about downers or handling problems.
Other problems occur because old facilities were not designed for modern handling techniques. Renovations are costly.
“Facilities are an issue,” he said.
“We have not seen a lot of new facilities being built in recent years. In general, these facilities have a lot of age to them and a lot of things we know today about the movement of livestock were not known when these facilities were built 40 to 50 years ago,” he said.
The Livestock Marketing Association policy may be seen at lmaweb.com/animal-handling, while the Livestock Markets Association of Canada guidelines are at www.lmacmarkets.ca/hand_cattle. htm.