Cattle handling systems should be designed for safe use by both handlers and livestock. Goals of a cattle handling system include that it meets the needs of the operation, is safe and efficient for handlers, and reduces stress and bruising in animals. 

A well-designed cattle handling system will:

  • Keep your handlers safe
  • Reduce medical bills
  • Boost your productivity
  • Save you time and money

Designing Your System

Series of cattle alleys

Site selection is the first step in designing a safer cattle handling system. Elements to consider in site selection are accessibility to pastures, weather-induced variables, fencing and electricity at the site, as well as footing and drainage.

Cattle handling systems can be installed in an area near your current barn or pasture facilities. The system should have six components:

  • Holding pen(s),
  • Access alley,
  • Box or tub,
  • Working alley,
  • Chute, and
  • A loading or exit area.

Think about your current cattle handling needs, and the future growth of your operation when designing your cattle handling system. If you plan to expand the size of your operation, it may be more economical to design a larger cattle-handling system now, rather than renovate an outdated system later on, or risk injuries in a small system.

Cattle can evade handlers in large holding pens. Gates or fencing can be used to easily adjust handling size as needed. Plan for 20-square feet per cow and 14-square feet per calf in your holding pens.

Design Recommendations

Cow exiting a cattle alley through the side
  • Define an escape route first. Safety should be the first priority when designing a cattle handling system. Handlers should be aware of their escape routes at every point of the handling system in the event that something goes wrong. For cattle, ensure that your alleys and cattle chutes have an emergency exit option in case of an emergency.
  • Keep the alley straight at the entrance and exit of the tub or box. The minimum length for the straight section of the alley should be the length of two full mature animals, or 12-feet at both the entrance and exit.
  • Number of cattle dictates overall tub or box size and alley length. You want enough cattle to fit into the alley to maintain a steady flow into the chute system, and minimize interruptions to load more cattle. However, there is a sweet spot in alley length. Alleys that hold too many cattle can lead to injuries for cattle and handlers.
  • Beware of alley width. It should be wide enough for cattle to move forward comfortably, but not so wide that they can turn around.
  • Traction matters. Cattle will be safer and calmer on footing that provides good traction, minimizing slips and falls. Rubber flooring is quiet, decreasing stress, and provides better footing. Packed dirt or gravel is also acceptable footing. Gravel minimizes mud formation.
  • Use slopes and light to your advantage. Cattle prefer moving uphill and towards the light. If slope or lighting is a factor in your design, choose these elements to create a safer and less stressful system. Crowd pens have to be level for cattle safety.
Man eartagging a cow in a squeeze chute
  • Use sight lines. Cattle want to move towards an exit. Use solid and slatted walls strategically to help move cattle through the handling system and towards the chute. A curve with a solid side will stop them, whereas an open side will encourage cattle to continue moving forward.
  • Add an access gate. An access gate at the front or back of the squeeze chute will save handlers from climbing over the fences, and create a safer system.
  • Handle electricity with care. Electricity is often needed in a cattle handling system. Ensure safety for cattle and handlers by using ground fault circuits and outlets that are moisture-proof.
  • Consider cattle behavior in design. Animals move away from a handler that enters its flight zone. Select equipment that lets you use cattle behavior to your advantage when managing cattle flow. 
  • Carefully select a cattle chute and head gate. The chute and head gate should complement the cattle handling system and build off of the low-stress attributes to facilitate a quick and efficient procedure with cattle. It is recommended to consider squeeze chutes that are able to secure the animal so you have safe access to the parts that need to be worked on. 

References
Cattle Handling and Working Facilities
Livestock Handling Systems, Cattle Corrals, Stockyards, and Races
Optimize Your Cattle Handling System Design
Restraint of Livestock
The Design and Construction of Facilities for Handling Cattle
Top 10 Expert Cattle Alley Design Tips
Working Safely with Livestock