NC Cooperative Extension

Cattle Handling Facilities

Cattle Handling Facilities

corral design

Every cattleman needs a way to safely catch and restrain animals in his herd. This important if an animal gets sick, injured, or needs veterinary attention.  There are also herd health management practices that require animal handling.  Facilities that are good are easy to use and reduce the risk of injury to cattlemen and livestock.  Poor facilities are frustrating, slow to use, no fun for cattle or cattlemen.

A good handling facility need not be a burdensome expense. When animals can be conveniently handled, herd health programs are easier to implement. Research has shown properly managed calves routinely sell for $50 to $100 per head more than neglected calves. At this rate construction costs can be recaptured in 2 to 5 years.  Well constructed facilities should be serviceable for 25 to 30 years.

Important Behavioral Characteristics
Cattle have basic instinctive behaviors.  They are prey animals.  Their behaviors are based on herd survival.  They do not like going into places where they can not see an escape route.  They do not like sudden movements, or loud noises.  Above all, they do not like to be singled out from the herd.

When designing facilities avoid dead ends. A dead end is a point where the path stops and there is no route of escape apparent to the animal. Coming abruptly upon a closed gate will cause the animal to try to return from whence it came. Other animals coming up behind it will feel trapped.  Then the group will begin to vigorously try escaping by climbing the fence, charging the gate, or turning around.

Avoid movement from brightly lit areas to darkened places. It takes time for eyes to adjust when going into dimly lit barn interiors.  Also avoid shadows, especially bars of shadows, falling across the line of travel. Shadows can be disorienting and cause uneasiness. This just heightens the defensive alertness of animals and makes them more likely to fight or run when they encounter unexpected movements or noises.  If shadow lines are unavoidable at least insure they do not occur where animals have the opportunity to make a choice. For example, if the shadow falls where the animals transition from a holding pen to a working chute it will be more difficult to get them into the chute. In this case it would be better to extend the shaded to include both the pen and the chute.

The recommended direction of travel in a chute should be either north or south because traveling directly into the sun blinds cattle and makes them balk. Chute travel should also be uphill if possible as cattle are more likely to balk going downhill.

By the same token, if you plan to build a catwalk, place it on the inside of the curve and where the height is about 40-42" below the top rail of the chute fence. This takes advantage of the animals natural inclination to travel around a threat (you) and positions you at a height to easily see and move the stock comfortably.

Other Considerations
Cattle have a very strong affinity for the herd. It is much easier to coerce an animal to go where it sees a herdmate than to drive it into a place alone. If cattle are traveling in a curved chute they can see at least some of their herdmates safely before them and will readily move forward. Right angle turns cause problems.  They balk until they can determine their herdmates are still safely before them.

The herd instinct is stronger than the fear of confinement. Design chutes so cattle can see other cattle where you want them to go.  Guard against letting them seeing cattle where you don't want them to go. For example, line the walls of the chute with plywood to prevent them from seeing herdmates on the other side of the chute wall.

Safety Concerns
Chute walls should be no more than 26 inches wide or 28 inches for large framed breeds such as Charolais or Simmental.  If they are any wider cattle will be able to turn around. The walls may be parallel to each other or closer at the bottom than at the top.  For most breeds 5 foot corral walls are adequate, but 5 1/2 to 6 foot can be used for taller breeds.

Concrete surfaces should be roughened to allow animals a good foot hold.  Just sweeping wet concrete will not be enough to retain traction over a number of years. Pressing the edge of a board into the concrete every 3 to 6 inches will create grooves which be serviceable over a much longer time.

Design Examples

Links to agricultural plan sites

Additional Reading
Beef Housing & Equipment Handbook
Beef Housing and Equipment Handbook is an excellent source of information.  This book can be purchased from the MidWest Plan Service.

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