Setups don’t need to be elaborate or expensive to be effective 

Many times, working cattle can be stressful for animals and producers. The proper placement, design, and use of working facilities can ease stress on livestock and handlers.   

No matter the size and budget of an operation, there are handling facility options available. “The setup doesn’t necessarily have to be elaborate or excessively expensive to be effective.  Scale your system to your needs and budget and take the project in phases if your budget doesn’t allow for building it all at once,” Andy McCorkill, field specialist in livestock with the University of Missouri Extension, said. 

Proper Location

The first step in the process entails selecting the right site for the working facilities. Producers will want to consider building the working facilities in an area that is centrally located on the property. Even more importantly, it’s essential to choose a place that has easy access for loading and unloading livestock.

If possible, producers should select a location with a slight slope to promote water runoff and reduce deep mud buildup in the pens.  Establishing a good rock base will help to minimize mud. 

Consider Animal Behavior

According to livestock extension specialists, another important factor to take into account when designing working facilities is the natural behaviors and instincts of cattle. “As far as layout goes, livestock tend to want to stay in a group and be able to go back to where they came from. Develop facilities with that in mind and arrange for livestock to come back around to a point near where the gate was shut behind them as they leave the chute,” McCorkill said. 

Producers should keep in mind cattle see things differently than humans. “They are not color blind as many people think, however color isn’t as vivid to them as it is to us, meaning shadows and other contrasts on color can look “spooky” to them,” McCorkill explained. “To curb this distraction, try to avoid setting things where shadows can be cast into cattle walkways or loose objects that may blow in the wind or cause visible color contrast.”  

Though cattle have astute hearing, they can have difficulty processing sound.  McCorkill recommends producers try to avoid clanking chains or other loud noises because they can cause cattle to balk.

“I like to walk through the system before starting to process cattle to look and listen for those pieces that might cause a fear response in the animals and fix them,” McCorkill added.  Taking the time to do simple tasks, such as removing an object leaned against a fence or taping up chains, reduces noise and in turn helps to keep cattle calm and moving. 

Correct Sizing

Determining the correct size for lots, sorting pens and alleys varies from operation to operation. It is ideal to build a sizable lot for catching and holding cattle and smaller lots for holding and sorting. Some of the most important aspects of the working facilities are alleys and chutes. When designing the layout, plan for current herd size and future growth.  

It can be tricky to design the perfect width of a crowding alley that leads to the chute. Sometimes it’s too small for big cows to fit through or too spacious which gives smaller an-imals room to turn around.  Livestock specialists recommend an adjustable alley or one with a V bottom to minimize problems.  

Additionally, McCorkill states bud box designs are growing in popularity due to their lower cost and simplicity when compared to a tub system. “Sizing the alleys feeding the bud box and the box itself correctly are key components,” McCorkill added. “Recommended dimensions for most bud boxes are 12 feet wide and 20 to 24 feet long.  For simplicity, the alley leading to the bud box should be the same width.”

For smaller operations or operations needing facilities at several different locations, port-able facilities are an option. There are portable options on the market that are durable and effective. 

Do the Homework

One of the best strategies to find out what works is to ask other producers about their setups and designs. Ask them what they like and don’t like about the components in their working facilities. “A good voice of experience can save some headaches and changes later on,” McCorkill said.   

Handling and Husbandry Skills

Excellent animal handling and husbandry skills are also important in reducing stress. One tip for producers is to avoid crowding too many cattle in the tub or box. Cattle need room to move for the system to flow correctly. 

“My general recommendation is to not put more cattle in the tub or box than the alley to the chute can hold.  I often tell folks that, ‘Slow is smooth and smooth is fast’ when it comes to animal handling,” McCorkill shared.

McCorkill added that the handler’s placement and movement will affect how cattle move; learning how much pressure to apply and where will aid in flow of stock through the system. For producers just getting started, a Beef Quality Assurance course as well as animal handling training are good first steps.    


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