Jim Abacherli, owner and manager of South Slope Dairy, wanted to come up with an easier, less stressful way to handle down cows, and with a few modifications, he outfitted a skid steer bucket to do just that.

Coffeen peggy
Coffeen was a former editor and podcast host with Progressive Dairy. 

Moving down animals can be quite a challenge on the 6,500-cow dairy located near Clovis, New Mexico, particularly during the rainy season. If a cow goes down in a muddy corral, rolling her into a basic skid steer bucket puts both the animal and employees at risk of injury.

“You can send five guys out there, but when it’s muddy, they can’t get leverage under their feet to roll the cow into a skid steer bucket,” he says, noting that this year they have received 43 inches of rain between May and November. “The guys are slipping, sliding, falling down – and the cow is kicking.”

Abacherli knew that he needed a better way to rescue the down cows on his dairy. Driven by his concern for proper animal handling and welfare, he sought a safe, humane solution that would also simplify the task for his workers.

That solution began with a basic skid steer bucket, which he lined with rubber along the surface and round pipe over any sharp edges along the blade and sides to prevent injury. He extended the bottom of the bucket an additional 18 inches, giving it greater leverage when tilted. Then, he welded angle iron along the top of the bucket with notches every 6 inches to secure the chain for a hip hoist. Once in the bucket, the cow can be moved to a safe place for treatment and recovery.


“You lower the bucket all the way down so the curve goes over the cow, then take the hip hoist with the short chain and hook it in the notches along the bucket,” he explains. “So then when you back up the loader, you flatten the bucket out and it rolls her over.”

Though Abacherli acknowledges that industry experts often shy away from hip hoists, he believes that using one in this way with the modified bucket makes the process of moving a down cow safer and easier for all involved.

“This is something we think has minimal stress on the cow because when you are lifting the bucket up, you are not pulling her into the bucket with the hoist,” he points out. “You are using it as a leverage point for a short time, and then she is flipped back in the bottom of the bucket.”

Abacherli’s bucket design is simple to use. Instead of sending four or five workers out to get a cow in the corral, two can do the job of loading her.

“It’s so simple,” he adds. “There is a quick-attach so the guys don’t have to get out of the tractor.”

The modified bucket works well for cows that go down outside, but Abacherli came up with a different solution for those that take a fall in the barn in areas too tight for the skid steer due to sprinklers and crowd gates. In these instances, workers roll the cow into a portable fiberglass footbath and remove her by pulling it like a sled with a smaller tractor.  PD

peggy coffeen