Push Pull Gate and Point of Balance - A Match Made in Cattle Handling Heaven
Of the four principles that govern livestock movement, point of balance has to be the most powerful.
An invisible line running vertically from the shoulder down (some say the eye, some say shoulder, and we agree that it's somewhere in between), the point of balance is named so as it is a natural balance point. A threshold that determines whether the animal will go forwards or whether it will go back.
As a prey animal living in our modern world with its intensive production systems full of predators, cattle are intrinsically motivated to move away from us.
Despite almost 10,000 years of domestication by humans, they have remained a prey animal, and with eyes firmly on the sides of their heads, that's not going to change any time soon.
Cattle are moved by us when we successfully manipulate their natural principles. By standing in & moving to the right places at the right time (together with appropriate and safe facilities), we can move cattle to where we want them. Point of balance is a principle that every person has in their handling toolbox, it's just a matter of knowing how to use it. There are other principles which are just as important, and they will be covered in future blog's.
The beauty of the point of balance is that it is both easy to understand and easy to do. It requires minimal effort, and it gets maximum impact. It is silent and it is stress free - namely because it makes sense to the animal.
Crossing the point of balance with your body sends a clear message to the animal: "move away from me", and, when the animal is confined to a single width race, it has only two options of where to move - forwards or backwards.
The most common scenario's where Point of Balance is used are:
- Race - when cattle are in a race, heading to the crush or up the loading ramp
- Force - when you are in a forcing yard and directing cattle up the race
- Drafting Pound - when you are drafting animals on foot in a pound
- Crush - when an animal is in, entering or exiting the crush
To utilise the point of balance, the handler needs to be seen by the animal. Connection is imperative, and to achieve this, the handler must be within the animals flight zone (if you're wondering where the flight zone is, try this: if the animal stands and looks at you, you're not in the flight zone. If the animal walks away from you, you are in its flight zone).
To be seen by the animal, you can't have anything obstructing the view, so in the case of moving an animal into the crush from the race, a door that pushes out of the way does wonders for visibility.
A unique feature of every Arrowquip crush is the push/pull rear door. With a long banana shaped yellow handle, the gate pushes away from the user, allowing a clear view of the animal to handler and vice versa.
Many crush manufacturers choose to have gates that pull towards the user, which both blocks visibility and severs connection between human & beast. They also require the handler to go around the gate, thus slowing down momentum and ruining the opportunity to utilise point of balance with the next animal.
Pushing a gate out of your way and stepping into the flight zone and across the point of balance provides real bang for your buck. Use the steps below to try it for yourself:
Scenario: Near side crush. One animal in the crush, one in the race.
Step 1. Open the head bail and let the first animal out. Shut head bail but leave open 20-30cm wide. Using your left or right hand, pick up the rear door handle and push it away from you.
Step 2. Step forwards towards the next animal, angling in slightly at its rib cage. This will be around two long steps. This manoeuvre will take you quietly and confidently across the point of balance. You want to start in line with the banana handle and end up in line with the animals rib cage. When the animal responds by going forwards, turn your body with the direction of the animals flow and use your presence as support for the animal that going forwards is correct. Follow the animal up by stepping back up to the crush and either catching the animal or shutting the rear door, whichever needs to occur first.
Essentially, what you have done is reduce the distance between you and the animal (remember: it is a prey animal and you are a predator) and asked the animal to make a choice - "stay where you are - near me the predator, or go forwards and get away from me".
As you can see in the below video, Keith is able to stay in line with his animal, therefore remaining in its flight zone, easily crossing the bull's point of balance. Keith's actions provide a clear message to the bull, without the need for any use of voice or touch - he simply pushed the door open and stepped forwards.
Handling livestock is one of those tasks that is as difficult as you make it, but with facilities that promote the use of livestock handling principles such as Arrowquip's range of crushes, races and yard systems, working cattle can be a safe and easy breeze for everyone.