There's something uniquely depressing about arriving at someone's farm excited for the arrival of their new crush, only to discover that the new one is worse than the one it replaced. You walk glumly up to the shiny new frame, knowing that you have another 10 years of this ahead of you until you can convince the farmer's son or daughter that it might be time for a change.
Occupational health and safety is a topic about as fun as dentist visits or pressure hosing 'mud' off the walls in the dairy. However, it is an extremely important topic - especially for those of us who constantly work in the firing line with these great big (and beautiful) animals.
Here's a top 10 list of crushes that we'd prefer not to see.
1. The really long crush without a side gate.
Good exercise initially, but after climbing over the fence for the sixth time, you start wishing you'd brought a student.
2. The brand new crush that has been sitting next to the old crush for six months now.
The new one is shiny, expensive, and mainly used to hang up bits of string and calving ropes. When is it going in? Nobody ever knows.
3. The crush with expensive 'features' that make life worse.
Auto-shutting gates that trap you behind the cow, winches for lame feet that disengage unpredictably and triangular revolving back gates that the cow 'just needs to push with her head to get past' fall into this category.
4. The 'walk-through' head bail.
The cows walk through nicely the first time - and they learn quickly. Follow-up visits become a nightmare of trying to push 800kg cows into the auto-locking mechanism with all their brakes on.
5. The crush that doesn't have split-side gates or has sides that don't open.
Trying to do surgery with the cow fish-tailing from side to side, or doing front feet with the hoof suspended in the air is a good recipe for gritted teeth at best and then frantic yelling when it all goes pear-shaped.
6. The crush that isn't bolted in.
It works fine until the bull takes off across the paddock wearing the crush like a fashion statement. It's also incredibly dangerous when your patient (inevitably a mad beef heifer) lunges forward and tips it over, taking you out with it.
7. The head bail that slips open if you don't tie down the lever.
You always find out about this at the worst possible moment, like when the cow's back hoof is tied up or you've got an arm up her backside.
8. The crush that opens from the front, with a bolt that falls out when the cow thrashes her head around just a little bit.
It is an especially nasty surprise when you're trying to drench a cow and she tosses you to one side and tries to run away. Her head will inevitably be stuck in the wildly-swinging front gate and before you know it, you're trying to back up a panicking cow without getting bashed or trampled.
9. The crush that kills cows that go down.
V-shaped head bails and front plates are notorious for this. Watching a cow choke to death while you're desperately trying to lift her head up is an intensely miserable experience. Plus, even the cows seem to recognise that it's a silly set up and refuse to put their heads in, no matter how much you try and tempt them with sweet words or pellets.
10. The 'crush' that is actually a bloke pushing the cow up against a fence using a rusty old gate.
This can work in a pinch but raises your blood pressure to an unhealthy degree. It often involves some kind of invasive abdominal surgery and a farmer helper who is well past the recommended age of retirement.
So what do we like to see? Nothing is happier for a vet than to show up to a sturdy crush with a sensible design, especially if it's undercover on a hot or rainy day. A great race leading up to the crush makes a big difference. In general, we're looking for minimal bells and whistles, and maximum sense and safety. A handy can of WD40 goes a long way.
Good working conditions allow us to do a wider range of procedures, and to do a better job at doing them. We'll be out of your hair quicker, which helps to keep your costs down, and we get to keep our teeth - which is always a lovely bonus.D
*Ee Cheng Ooi is a dairy veterinarian and fertility researcher in Northern Victoria.
All comments and information discussed in this article are intended to be of a general nature only. Please consult the farm's vet for herd health advice, protocols and/or treatments that are tailored to a herd's particular needs.
Want to read more stories like this?
Sign up to receive our e-newsletter delivered fresh to your email in-box twice a week.