When it comes time to work cattle on the farm, whether for sorting, tagging, vaccinating and so on, most producers admit it is can often be a stressful time for both humans and bovines.
There’s typically the concern of what could go wrong, the potential of a frightened animal hurting themselves or even breaking loose from the working facility. One of the best ways to ease the stress of working cattle is to begin with a properly constructed facility – one that makes working cattle safer and easier, for both the livestock and the producer.
A working facility for cattle should be sturdy. Cattle are large animals and at some point the strength of gates, fences and tubs are going to be tested.
There are two commonly used designs that one sees in working facilities – curved and straight. Both have caused controversy in the cattle industry, so Ozarks Farm & Neighbor looked at the pros and cons of both.
Curved Working Facilities
Curved working facilities with solid sides were made popular by Dr. Temple Grandin, and many working facilities today are built using her designs. Her reasoning is that chutes and alleys built with 180-degree turns take advantage of the cattle’s natural tendency to want to return to where it came from, therefore keeping the cattle much calmer as they move through the facility.
Another benefit to the curves is that “a curved chute works more efficiently than a straight one because it prevents cattle from seeing people and other activities at the end of the chute,”she wrote.
Constructing a curved working facility with solid sides can become costly, since more materials are needed to build it. Another con to curved facilities is that some research has shown that the cows may see the solid sided curves as ‘stop signs’ instead of escape routes.
Straight Working Facilities
Straight working facilities often cost less to build, especially if producers opt out of solid sides.
Whit Hibbard, a lifelong Montana cattle rancher and Dr. Lynn Locatelli, a low stress livestock handling consultant in the U.S. and Canada, have suggested that straight chutes are indeed the way to go when working cattle.
The reasoning behind their theory is that “if for some reason animals are uncomfortable with where we are trying to take them (e.g., into a tub) and they really do want to return to where they came from, that literally means that they will retrace their steps to do so. Going around a corner, in the animal’s mind, is not going back where they came from; it’s going around a corner into uncharted territory…It’s so different, in fact, that cattle are often unwilling to go around the curve and will stall.” Hibbard and Locatelli went on to say consequently, cattle frequently have to be driven with significant force around these turns. Grandin’s systems are designed as “driving” systems; that is, the cattle must constantly go forward through various curves.
The problem, however, is that they resist going forward toward solid walls – which is precisely what happens with solid-sided curves – so the handlers often need to drive them with increasing force through the system. As a result of all these problems, solid-sided, curved.
Editor’s note: Dr. Temple Grandin is considered a top expert on livestock handling equipment. Her theories have been tested and proven.