BEEF CATTLE CORRALS AND HANDLING FACILITIES
Roy Burris, Curtis Absher, Sam McNeill and Larry Turner
Proven management practices such as
castrating, dehorning, pregnancy examination, controlling parasites, implanting,
vaccinating, etc. are essential if profits are to be realized in beef herds.
Although most practices are relatively simple, they cannot be done easily
without some type of restraining equipment which will prevent injury to
both man and animal. The absence of cattle handling facilities probably
contributes more than anything else to failure to perform these money-making
Site selection is of great importance.
Drainage and protection from the weather, along with access to pastures
and access by motor vehicles are primary considerations. Because much cattle
work is done during inclement weather when farmers can't do field work,
some type of natural or manmade protection will encourage more use of the
system. An all-weather road is also needed so that cattle can be moved
at any time by truck or trailer.
Corrals should be located for maximum
convenience in gathering the herd. Fences should form natural funnels into
the corral. Gates must be designed to swing in the direction of animal
movement and may need to swing to 270 degrees to accommodate efficient
movement of cattle in all directions. Special care should be taken to anchor
gate posts firmly to prevent gate sag.
If remodeling or expanding an existing
corral is desired, the location is already determined, but changes may
make it easier to get the cattle into the corral. Use the dimensions shown
in Table 1 as a guideline for sizing facilities.
The components of a cattle handling
facility are: (1) holding pen; (2) crowding pen, (3) working
chute; (4) squeeze chute or headgate; (5) loading chute;
and (6) scales. It is not always necessary to use all of these parts
in every system. Use only those parts that are needed and affordable.
Holding pens can "make or break" the
handling facility. They should be designed to hold the maximum number of
cattle to be worked at any one time. For example, a producer with 30 cows
needs a minimum of two pens. One pen would hold 30 cows and 30 calves --
20 ft per cow and 14 sq ft per calf (see Table 1), total 1020 sq ft. A
second holding pen, 600 sq ft would hold cows after they are sorted from
the calves. However, other pens could be added for more flexibility. Holding
pens interconnected with a common alleyway provide ideal sorting capabilities.
Cattle can be held in the alleyway and sorted into one of the adjacent
Cost often prohibits the installation
of solid fencing in all cattle sorting and working areas. A wire fence
will be sufficient if a single row of planks at eye-level add enough substance
so that cattle can see the fence and will not try to run through it. Solid
round or square fence posts should be set no more than 8 ft apart and at
least 2 1/2 ft into the ground. Five-foot-high fences are usually sufficient
for the British breeds (Hereford, Angus, etc) of cattle. A minimum of 5
1/2 ft is recommended for Brahman-cross and exotics.
The holding pens must have direct access
to the crowding pen, working alley and headgate. Water, shade and feeding
facilities in one of the pens enables it to be used for weaning, a sick
pen or a bull pen.
Table 1. -- Corral and Working Facilities Dimensions (Use dimensions
for over 1200 lb for cow-calf operations).
SOURCE: Midwest Plan Service. Beef Housing & Equipment Handbook
||To 600 lb
||Over 1200 lb
|Holding area sq ft/head
|Crowding pen sq ft/head
|Working chute with vertical sides
| Length (minimum)
|Working chute with sloping sides
| Width at bottom inside dear
| Width at top inside clear
| Length (minimum)
|Working chute fence
| Recommended minimum height
| Depth of posts in ground (minimum}
| Recommended height
| Depth of posts in ground (minimum)
||26 in.-30 in.
| Length (minimum)
| Rise, In./ft
| Ramp height for:
| Stock trailer
| Pickup truck
| Stock truck
| Double-deck trailer
The crowding pen is a confining area
which funnels cattle into the working and/or loading chute, forcing cattle
to go through the working chute with a minimum of effort. It can also serve
as the spray pen. A well-designed and constructed crowding area reduces
the labor required to work cattle, enabling one person to keep the working
chute filled. Desirable characteristics of a crowding area are
•circular or funnel shape
•totally enclosed sides
•solid crowding gate
•rough concrete floor
A circular crowding pen with
solid sides is effective because the only visible escape route is through
the working chute. The area where the crowding pen Joins the working chute
can be a trouble spot where cattle will bunch-up and jam unless there is
a gradual transition between the two. A concrete floor is desirable to
provide an all-weather surface. The circular crowding pen normally has
a 12-ft long, swinging crowding gate. A quarter-circle crowding area with
a 12-ft gate can handle up to 8 mature cows. For larger operations, half-circle
and three-quarter circle crowding areas are common. If the crowding area
cannot be made circular, it should at least be funnel-shaped with one side
straight and contain a crowding gate.
The purpose of the working chute is
to align cattle into single-file for treatment. It starts from the crowding
pen and leads to the headgate. A working chute should
•curve or bend
•have totally enclosed sides
•be at least 20 ft long
•have a rough concrete floor
•contain a gate
Animals will often back up when they can see the squeeze chute. The
best alleys are curved or have at least a 15 degree bend, to help prevent
cattle from backing up and bunching in the alley.
Sloping the sides of the chute is desirable
because the animal's feet and legs are confined to a narrow path. This
reduces the animal's ability to turn around. Sloping sides are more adaptable
to cow-calf operations because different sizes of cattle can be worked
efficiently In the same chute. Common faults are (1) making the
chute too wide, which will permit smaller cattle to turn around, and (2)
inadequate construction, which allows the sides to spread when subjected
to intense pressure. Recommended widths for working chutes with straight
or sloping sides are listed in Table 1. Increase chute width by 2 in. for
exotic breeds of cattle.
A catwalk along the outside of the
chute provides the producer easy access to the cattle without having to
stretch over the side when vaccinating or treating for parasites. Place
the catwalk about 18 irk above the ground for an easy step.
Holding Chute (Headgate and/or Squeeze Chute)
The holding chute is located at the
end of the working chute and should hold the animal securely while it is
being treated. A simple headgate can be constructed from heavy lumber or
pipe, or many brands of commercial headgates are available. The three most
common types of headgates used are the self-catching, stanchion
and guillotine. Each of these types has advantages and disadvantages.
The self-catching headgate is
easy to operate, seldom chokes cattle if properly adjusted and allows rapid
working of cattle with a minimum of balking. However, it is not well suited
for horned cattle; it can cause shoulder bruises when cattle lunge at the
cocked headgate, and sometimes allows an animal to escape without being
caught. Self-catching headgates have manual controls that can be used for
The stanchion headgate is also
simple, fast to operate and seldom chokes cattle if properly adjusted.
There is also potential for shoulder bruises as cattle lunge toward the
open stanchion and occasionally an animal may escape without being caught.
The guillotine headgate holds
the animal's head securely and lessens the likelihood of shoulder bruises.
However, it is more difficult to operate, can cause choking, and cattle
working is slower because cattle tend to balk instead of moving forward
freely. A squeeze chute is a desirable addition to most corrals.
It restrains animals and reduces the chance of injury to both animal and
worker. On small cow-calf operations a squeeze chute may not be economically
feasible and only a headgate may suffice. The tailgate of the squeeze chute
should allow the cattle to see through it. If an animal can see the animal
in front of him leaving the squeeze chute, he will enter the chute more
Headgates and squeeze chutes with a
variety of features and types of construction are available. When purchasing
this equipment, be aware of the location of levers, types of controls and
ease of operation for your particular use.
Some producers consider a loading chute
as an essential part of their cattle handling system. Others with fewer
cattle may use trailers without a loading ramp for hauling. The main requirement
of a loading chute is to be able to load quickly before the first cattle
entering can come back out. This means an adjacent holding pen must be
large enough to hold the largest number of cattle to be loaded at any one
More than one loading chute may be
needed to accommodate vehicles ranging from gooseneck trailers to double-decker
trucks, or a chute with a variable height adjustment can be used. The loading
chute ramp can be either sloping or stepped. Regardless of the type, maximum
incline should be 30% (or about 31/2 in. rise per foot of length). Total
chute length, therefore, would depend on maximum rise needed but should
be at least 12 ft to insure that each animal starting up the ramp is following
at least two other cattle and not walking directly into the truck or trailer.
To determine minimum chute length,
divide height of the truck bed by desired rise per foot of length (e.g.,
48-in. truck bed height divided by 3.5-in. rise = 13.7 ft chute). To improve
footing, nail 1 x 3 hardwood cleats to the chute floor 6 in. on center.
If a stepped ramp is used, steps should
be not less than 18 in. wide and risers not more than 4 in. high. Steps
formed with concrete should be broom-roughened.
Scales can be a valuable addition to
working facilities. Weaning weights and cow weights can be obtained in
cow-calf operations. Checking shrink from payweight, days to regain payweight
and average daily gain are important to the back-grounder and/or finisher.
Portable scales can be positioned in front of the headgate. In many cases,
they can be borrowed from neighbors, lending institutions, supply firms
or the Extension service.
Multiple animal scales can be positioned
so that they are also accessible to vehicles for weighing feed or for other
purposes. Scales should be located where there is proper drainage. Splash
plates around the bottom of the scales will prevent waste material from
entering the pit.
A tipping calf table can greatly increase
the ease of handling young calves. The calf table can be a valuable tool
when a large number of calves are to be worked. Jobs such as castrating,
dehorning and branding can become essentially a one-person operation or
up to three people can perform jobs simultaneously. Most models are reversible
and allow calves to be tipped to either the right or left side.
A palpation cage is frequently overlooked
when building handling facilities. However, it is very important because
pregnancy testing of brood cows, artificial insemination, castration and
emergency procedures require access to the rear of an animal. A palpation
gate can be a part of a commercial squeeze chute or can be constructed
behind the headgate. The access gate to the palpation cage should be sufficiently
wide and hinged so that it completely closes off the working chute behind
the worker. A solid catch is essential.
Determining Your Needs
Any one handling facility layout will
not fit all cattle operations. A producer should determine the components
needed and the design to fit his particular type of operation, herd size,
existing facilities and materials available. The objective should be to
have a facility which allows you to sort, weigh, restrain, receive and/or
ship cattle as efficiently and economically as possible. Plans for future
expansion should also be considered before construction begins.
Adequate handling facilities need not
be elaborate or expensive. Existing fencelines or buildings may be used
in planning a facility. The following layouts show simple handling facilities
which are located in a barn comer or lot comer (Figure
6, Figure 7, Figure
8, Figure 9, and
10). The other layouts show corral designs of varying degrees of complexity.