Friday 30 September 2016

Handling the challenge of bigger and wilder cattle

We talk to the Scotsman leading a revolution in the design of cattle handling equipment

Published 14/10/2015 | 02:30

Ireland's largest gate manufacturer Oliver Gibney (left) and the fourth generation cattle equipment manufacturer Bob Ritchie at last month's ploughing championships.
Ireland's largest gate manufacturer Oliver Gibney (left) and the fourth generation cattle equipment manufacturer Bob Ritchie at last month's ploughing championships.

"Cattle have changed," was the simple explanation from Bob Ritchie, the man behind some of the highest spec cattle handling equipment on the market.

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There has been a revolution of sorts in the design of cattle handling equipment in the last decade, driven by the parallel need for extra safety and the ability to handle bigger and wilder animals.

Hence the explosion of optional extras such as head scoops, anti-reverse bars, access gates, levers, and automations all aimed at helping the farmer cope with cattle in the 21st century.

Mr Ritchie is as well placed as any to comment on the development of equipment over the last century - he is the fourth generation of Ritchies to be involved in the business, with the fifth in the form of his son Steven already stepping up to the mark.

"My great grandfather, David, was a blacksmith with a forge just outside Forfar in Angus in east Scotland in 1870," explains Bob.

"We've seen massive changes in the business pretty much every 10 years since the 1920s, whether it was a shift to rail or away from it again, or after the Second World War when there was a massive push to make farming more productive through breeding, feeding and scale.

Automation

"In the last decade there has been a huge level of automation introduced at farm level. Feeding is through a diet feeder, bedding is with straw blower. So the first time cattle see people is often when they are being brought in for handling in a crush," says the Scot.

This is the reason behind the transformation in handling equipment. The exact level of spec depends on the type of animal you are handling, according to Ritchie.

"If they are dairy or polled crossbred you might be able to get away with a lower spec. But the top level of automation is designed for the big beef animals."

One of the interesting additions to the Ritchie line-up is a portable handling system. Called the Stock Cube, it consists of 20 hurdles, each 2.5m long and 1.6m high - "small enough to still be easily handled", according to Ritchie.

The Stock Cube also comes with a sweeper gate system that eliminates dead-end corners for stock, while keeping the operator safe (see photo). Mobile penning and crushes are grant-aided under TAMS at €43.50/m and €1,568, respectively.

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