Cattle Immobilisers and Electro Immobilisation August 28 2015
Electrical immobilization or restraint of animals in particular cattle has been gaining in popularity in Australia in recent years as many farmers and graziers implement one of the many immobilizers available on the market into their routine procedures. Intricate procedures where the safety of the beast and farmer is at stake lends itself to such immobilization, in particular castration, de-horning and branding, where sharp or hot objects are in use. While the safety benefits to the workers performing such procedures is obvious the safety for the cattle has raised some concerns and ethical issues and is still a topic of contention. In this blog we take a quick look at some of the pros and cons of electro-immobilisation, in particular with the Scintex Cattle Immobiliser and provide an introductory to this topic which will hopefully help in deciding whether to purchase a cattle immobilizer. Before delving further, as a writer for Scintex the conflict of interest is clear, and as a fore note acknowledge that Scintex is an advocate of the use of electro immobilization when performing select procedures on cattle.
If you are unaware of the practicalities of electro-immobilisation or haven’t seen one in use I recommend viewing our demonstration video here:
Mode of Operation
Inserted rectally, the probe creates a low frequency pulsed current causing contraction and relaxation of the skeletal muscle to cause immobilization. This is generally confined to the rear of the beast and allows proper breathing or respiration. Larger animals will require a larger current to induce immobilization and the cattle immobilizer is equipped with a control to vary this accordingly. The operator has control over the current applied to the beast and thus requires some experience to gain an optimal setting. Normal operation would involve quickly setting the probe to a level to induce restraint and then backing this setting off slightly. Once the probe is turned off or removed voluntary movement of the muscles returns making it a reversible procedure.
- A low cost alternative to anesthesia
- A form of immobilization which can be performed by any worker and does not require veterinary training or qualifications
- Reduced work place hazards and injuries
- Faster animal processing times
- Improved safety for cattle
- The beast under immobilization cannot respond to pain
- Adverse effects on the cardiac and respiratory systems in susceptible animals
Ethically, there seems to be considerable confusion on how the cattle industry works on a practical and fundamental level. Opting to use a cattle immobilizer does not increase the number of procedures being performed nor is it debated that electro immobilization should take the place in procedures which should be performed under anesthesia. The cattle farmer or grazier will be performing procedures such as castration, branding, de-horning as part of their routine work and have done for over a century. Blanket responses regarding electro-immobilisation, from many groups seems more opposed to these forms of procedures rather than to the immobilization itself. Taking the assumption that the procedure would be performed regardless will allow for an unbiased view and allow the potential users of this technique to weigh up the benefits and detriments of such a device.
Criteria of use of Electro Immobilisers
Operators of cattle immobilisers should have an understanding of the procedure and possible adverse effects of electric restraint. They should have an understanding of how to set an appropriate current setting for a particular beast as well as monitor any stress signals and respiratory failure. Work should be completed in a timeframe aimed at reducing the total time the beast spends under immobilization. Cattle / calves should be at least 6 months old. The cattle immobilizer should be used in conjunction with a cattle crush, cradle, chute or similar device which provides the primary form of restrain.
In summary, cattle immobilisers should not be used as a replacement or alternative to anesthesia administered by a vet. However, for procedures where the handler or grazier would have otherwise performed the procedure without anesthesia or effective immobilization we are of the opinion that the benefits appear to outweigh the potential downfalls. It is advised any potential user of cattle immobilization see their respective state law to see if restricted or banned use applies.
For further reading Discussion Paper on Cattle Standards & Guidelines for Electro Immobilisation.