Ro­bot helper im­proves safety for cat­tle drovers

Irish Examiner - Farming - - TECHNOLOGY FOCUS - Stephen Cado­gan

Safety is taken se­ri­ously by multi­na­tional gi­ant Cargill at their beef pro­cess­ing plants. Steps they take to pro­tect their work­ers might be worth copy­ing on Ir­ish farms, and in Ir­ish cat­tle marts or beef fac­to­ries.

Crash hel­mets and body pro­tec­tor pads are stan­dard equip­ment for the work­ers at Cargill’s beef plant in Schuyler, Ne­braska, who man­age the 5,000 cat­tle per day pro­cessed into beef at the plant.

Cargill are very con­scious of the safety risks in han­dling these an­i­mals, which av­er­age three quar­ters of a tonne weight, and are un­pre­dictable, like all live­stock.

As the cat­tle are cleared from each pen, the gates close, and the work­ers wave plas­tic bags tied to sticks (which is the type of han­dling aid rec­om­mended by North Amer­i­can farm an­i­mal wel­fare bod­ies), and call out com­mands to push the cat­tle for­ward un­til the next gate can be closed.

These strict pro­ce­dures help to pre­vent in­juries. “You’re herd­ing live an­i­mals,” said Matt Croghan, yard supervisor.

“They could turn on you, run you over, kick you, hurt you. So, any­thing we can do to be safer while we do this, we’re go­ing to do.” How­ever, plant op­er­a­tions man­ager Brad Churchill found a way to im­prove safety fur­ther, a re­mote-con­trolled cat­tle drover ro­bot. Cargill mod­i­fied a ro­bot sup­plied by a ven­dor. They up­grad­ing the body from plas­tic to metal, and re­designed the wheels to work bet­ter on some­times muddy ground.

Wiry wav­ing arms with plas­tic bags tied to the ends were added, which whip back and forth, mim­ick­ing the sound and mo­tion of the work­ers.

The ro­bot is also given a recorded voice to help move the an­i­mals:“hey! Hey! Hey! Come on. Let’s move it!” Cargill work­ers took well to in­tro­duc­tion of their new all­weather ro­bot helper.

It is op­er­ated via re­mote con­trol by a worker stand­ing on cat­walks that over­look the pens.

While work­ers still need to get in­side the pens, to close the gates af­ter the cat­tle exit and travel to­ward the pro­cess­ing plant, the ro­bot al­lows work­ers to keep a greater dis­tance from the an­i­mals. “From a safety stand­point, you don’t have to have an in­di­vid­ual there push­ing cat­tle for­ward,” said Sammy Ren­te­ria, gen­eral man­ager at the Schuyler beef plant.

“So, if the an­i­mal de­cides to turn, it’s not a per­son hurt. “It’s just a ma­chine that we can fix.”

It has the added ad­van­tage of re­duc­ing stress for the cat­tle, by min­imis­ing their prox­im­ity to hu­man ac­tiv­ity. It has got the bless­ing of famed live­stock wel­fare ex­pert Tem­ple Grandin, pro­fes­sor of an­i­mal sciences at Colorado State Univer­sity. She said: “The robotic cat­tle driver de­vel­oped by Cargill is a ma­jor in­no­va­tion in the han­dling and wel­fare of farm an­i­mals.

“This de­vice will lead to huge strides in em­ployee safety, while mov­ing large an­i­mals, and will re­duce the stress on cat­tle across the coun­try.”

She con­tributed to devel­op­ment of the ro­bot, along with beef plant em­ploy­ees and en­gi­neers from equip­ment sup­plier Flock Free, which man­u­fac­tures the ro­bot, now in use at Cargill beef plants in the US and Canada.

It may have mul­ti­ple fu­ture ap­pli­ca­tions for im­prov­ing live­stock han­dling and worker safety across the farm­ing in­dus­try.

This ro­bot (fore­ground) helps work­ers to safely move cat­tle from pens to the pro­cess­ing are at Cargill beef plants in the US.

Ro­bot cat­tle drover has got the bless­ing of famed live­stock wel­fare ex­pert Tem­ple Grandin.

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