The Animal Handling Course

by admin on February 4, 2013

During the Australia Tour, I tried to keep a close eye on the activities in the DVM 2015 Facebook page. It payed off. Sitting in Brisbane airport, I’d managed to get myself a ride to and from Glenormiston – the place where the animal handling course was to be held. I was going to be part of a carpool rather than taking the train there – about $30 cheaper. The international student in me was cheering for the savings.

A Black Swan in the Lake A Black Swan in the Lake

The trip down to Glenormiston was fun. There was quite a cultural diversity in the car – the driver was Australian (and had the longest hair I’ve ever seen on a blonde girl!), my co-passengers were a European from Boston, a Chinese girl from Toronto and  a half-caucasian, half-japanese girl from Vancouver. It was a fun 3 hour drive getting to know each other, We even stopped off at a lake for a tiny excursion. We saw native Black Swans in the lake. There were so many sulphur crested cockatoos and galahs flying around along the road. It was pretty incredible! Although it was probably a mundane sight for Australians.

We got to the TAFE at Glenormiston at the stipulated time. But, since most of the students took the train down and had already arrived, we missed a part of the briefing. It was the first time I had seen such a large gathering of my future classmates. The prospect of getting to know them was quite exciting.

That afternoon, we got to sort out which groups we belonged to, attend a few lectures and just relax. The carpool group was intact for most of the activities. After dinner, we had a lecture about horses which covered breed identification, markings and handling techniques.

I had chosen to stay in a two-person room as it was the cheaper option. My roommate was a girl from California. She was pretty amicable and we had quite a few things in common when it came to specific animal interests. We were in different groups for the activities.

Using a Bluff Board Using a Bluff Board

On the first day, I was assigned sheep in the morning and cattle in the afternoon.

We walked to the sheep shed in the morning. We were taught how to tip the sheep into a position that made them comfortable enough not to struggle and stable enough to do a quick basic vet exam of their teeth and hooves. In this position they were seated so that their rumps rested on top of our feet and their back was supported by our legs. This was quite challenging for me; it took a while for me to tip one over and get it into position but I finally did. Outside, in the yards, we were taught how to move the mob around and run them through a race. We were shown how to drench them (for deworming etc).

After lunch, we were off to the cattle paddocks. Here we first had to round up the cows and direct them into a smaller holding area which had a race and a crush. After the sheep, we were ready to move the cows to where we wanted them using the crowd principles. But, the cattle proved tougher; with a much larger paddock and much fussier animals, it took us a while to herd them to the holding pens. Once we achieved that, we were then shown how to restrain and ‘bring down’ a cow using just rope – each of the two techniques required two people. The last thing we were shown was how to guide the cow into the crush and perform a basic physical exam which included some other devices to gently hold their heads in place so we could check their ears, mucus membranes etc.

After dinner, we had a lecture about sheep and all the theoretical aspects of breeds and handling.

On the second day, I had pigs in the morning and horses in the afternoon.

With the pigs, after a short lecture, we were taught how to move them around in their pens using a bluff board. The idea was to bluff them into believing that a wall was closing into them and they had to move in a specific direction (the open one). The board could also be used to hold them in place. We were also shown how they were weighed.

The afternoon was very dry and hot. We had to go out to the horse yards, harness the horses and then bring them indoors to practice all the handling techniques. I was very keen to harness and lead a horse as I had done this innumerable times as an amateur horse rider. But, unfortunately, while I waited harness in hand, the heat got to me and blood started pouring out of my nose pretty profusely. I had to be excused and later rejoined the others inside. The Australian heat can be desiccating; always remember to hydrate. We practiced leading the horses and getting them into a trot – things we’d need to know how to do if we ever needed to asses respiration or gait. Working with the horses was a little more difficult that I’d expected. We had to check their hooves by placing them between our legs in a half bending position which took a lot of patience as the horse we were given wasn’t very fond of picking up her hooves. We then had to brush them down with the various horse brushes.

In the evening, after dinner, we had a lecture from a rural veterinarian on what it was like to run a rural vet practice. It was a mixed animal practice pre-dominantly focusing on large animals.

Thursday morning I had horses again followed by another session of cattle as well.

In this horse session, we were taught to put on the various horse accessories including knee guards, tail bandages and blankets. It took a couple of tries to get the tail bandage satisfactorily; the other accessories were relatively simple. We also used a girth measure tape to estimate the horse’s weight and took a temperature reading as well. We were given sheets with little horse outlines on them so that we could practise identification of various marks. We then lead the horses back to their paddocks.

That evening, we had a lecture on the NLIS which is the National Livestock Identification System employed in Australia and is mainly based on ear tags and numbers that identify parentage.

On the last day, we were shown various types of knots and hot to make our own harnesses out of a single rope. This was quite an entertaining class with a lot of people struggling to understand the printed picture guide. But, we all got them in the end. In the afternoon, we were given ashort tour of the Glenormiston Mansion that was attached to the college and was a local heritage site.

It was quite a packed week and we had learnt many things which we were later examined on as well.


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