Every corral is different, and none of them follow someone else’s blueprint.
“I don’t know of anybody who’s ever followed a plan specifically,” Bob Schultheis, natural resource extension specialist with the University of Missouri Extension Center at Marshfield, told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “The layout of every farm is a little bit different, so you can’t just say we’re going to make this thing face east and west, or north and south. You’ve got to accommodate a lot of different types of buildings; you also want to look not only at the safety and security of the animals, but theft prevention and safety for the people, vehicle access, what kind of fence materials you want to make it out of, and putting it in a place that avoids pollution runoff or upsetting neighbors. We’re trying to get efficient animal flow in here, and still do it on an economical scale.”
It’s a tall order, and Schultheis has a number of suggestions. For one thing, make sure you build adequate capacity. “As a general rule, we figure about 20 square feet per head for that large holding pen,” he said, “and then there will be smaller pens that are broken off of that, in order to sort the animals out.” In addition, the sorting alleys leading from the holding pen to the sorting pens should be 10’-12′ wide; the area of the sorting pens should total that of the holding pen, and each sorting pen should hold 25-30 head. Then, the crowding pen or tub should funnel cattle into a single file toward the lead-up alley, and be sized to hold 5-6 head.
The corral should be designed to be what’s called a closed loop system. That way, Schultheis said, “If one animal escapes, they don’t escape back out to the pasture; you have a way of returning them to the starting point and running them back through the system again.
As far as safety, Schultheis said the working area may have blocking gates or mangates that allow the handler to easily escape; they allow the handler to work from the side of or above the animal, instead of directly behind it. Catwalks would allow handlers to work the animals from above. “There are a couple of schools of thought,” he said, “on whether you use pipe fences, where you can see the animals and they can see you, or whether you totally enclose the sides so that the animals have one path to look at, and will follow that path.” These will often be curved, taking advantage of the instinct of cattle to circle. “If you put the working area straight ahead to where they can all see it coming, they’re going to be less likely to go there,” Schultheis said.
Fencing likely depends on what the rancher has on hand. Pipe is popular because it’s durable, but Schultheis said an outdoor pipe fence should be erected with the sun in mind. “What it will do is throw a grid of light and dark across the alley, and animals won’t want to walk across that,” he said, adding a cattle guard works in essentially the same fashion.
Schultheis said while it can be expensive to install a corral system, there are ways to make it economical. “I know folks who have gotten a really good deal on highway guard rails,” he said. But don’t cut corners, he asked, “If you don’t have time or money to do it right the first time, how will you be able to do it over again correctly?”