Excitement is in the air. It is finally time to invest in a cattle handling facility, and whether it is your first facility or an upgrade to an existing system there are five factors to consider before you begin.

Cattle handling facilities are an investment and a necessity. Some producers balk at the expense. However, a cattle handling facility is money well spent as handlers save time, stress levels decrease (for cattle AND handlers), and injuries are eliminated.

Start with a plan - as with anything on your cattle operation. Knowing the features that you want, how a cattle handling facility will be used, and who will be using the facility will help you make decisions for your operation.

Your plan should include every feature you could possibly want in a cattle handling facility - even if you think the budget or space will be a constraint. There are two reasons to do this. First, if you list every desirable feature for your operation you are unlikely to forget something. Second, there are creative ways to accomplish a goal that you may not be aware of - and these can be introduced by other producers or service providers if they know what you need and want. Making a list and planning your facility help formulate creative solutions to build the cattle handling system that you have dreamed of.

Here are the five considerations before investing in a cattle handling facility:

1. Location, location, location. Where to put a cattle working system?

There is an old saying that location is everything, and it really is when it comes to your cattle handling facility. You want a location on your ranch that is centrally located, easily accessible for trucks and trailers, and has access to water and electricity. There are other factors to consider with your location as well - including drainage, the slope of the land, protection from the weather, and proximity to neighbors.

Understanding a location and its benefits and constraints can be challenging. Ask other cattle producers about the location of their cattle handling facilities, what they like, and what they would change. Consider site work ahead of time. It is much easier to adjust a site and address drainage, slope or other issues before the cattle handling system is installed. A Cooperative Extension educator can be a valuable resource as you consider your potential locations and any site work.

2. Determining the Size and Scope of your Cattle Yard Design

Your operation grows and changes every year. You want a cattle handling facility that can adapt and grow with your operation. Several factors need to be considered with your size and scope:

  • Herd size and projected growth
  • Location (there it is again)
  • Type of herd (feeders versus a cow-calf operation, etc.)
  • Handlers

All of these factors have different impacts on the size and scope of your cattle handling facility, and each should be considered. The parameters of your operation may give some factors more weight than others. Consider what is most important for you and handlers that will be using your cattle facility. Add everything to your plan.

3. What is the Longevity of Your Cattle Yard Investment?

You are putting a lot of time and effort into planning this cattle handling facility; you want something that is built to last. Unfortunately, all equipment is not created equally. The quality of panels, gates, and handling equipment you choose matters and will greatly impact the longevity of your cattle handling facility. While it may cost slightly more now, investing in quality equipment will extend the life of your system and there will be fewer repairs needed. Ask other cattle producers about the age, longevity, and warranty of their system while you are visiting and looking at their facilities. One theme that will continue arising is that the quality of the system is an important factor and will influence longevity.

4. Flexibility of your Cattle Yard Design, and your Components

Handling cattle does not always happen in ideal situations. Your cattle handling facility should be useable by a single handler while still practicing low-stress cattle handling. It is not ideal - in a perfect world there are always enough people on hand to work cattle and we have all the time in the world. But we know the world is rarely perfect. Think back on your size and scope. You are probably investing in a cattle handling facility that will service your current herd. But, if you decide to expand in a few years, or reduce your herd size as you ease towards retirement, flexibility will be an important feature. Adding extra gates to your system is one of the easiest ways to ensure there is flexibility. Consider a chute and head gate that are adjustable as well - that way if you transition from a feedlot to a cow-calf operation - or any other type of cattle operation - your cattle handling facility can transition alongside you.

5. Determine the Return on Investment of a new Cattle Yard (ROI)

A cattle handling facility is an investment. Make sure the return on investment is there for you. This consideration encompasses the other four because your location, size and scope, longevity, and flexibility will all contribute to the return on investment. Rather than just admitting that there is a return on investment, put pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and work out the numbers to determine the ROI for a system. While skimming the list of attributes and comparing two systems it often seems that the ROI is similar. However, when the math is calculated we find that those higher quality systems that incorporate longevity, flexibility, size and scope, and location also yield a higher ROI.

Once you have considered your location, size and scope, longevity, flexibility, and return on investment, circle back to your original plan. Addressing these five considerations helps you focus on what is most important for your cattle handling facility design. Once your plan it adapted, you're ready to initiate the installation process. This is an exciting time on your operation - and cattle handling will be simpler and more efficient once the facility is in place. Spending the time to plan and build correctly will reap rewards in the future. Enjoy the process - and better yet - enjoy your new or upgraded cattle handling facility.

Cattle Handling Facility Design Ideas

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How to build cattle pens to load a semi trailer? +

Adding a cattle sorting alley, two 10' sections of alley, and a loading ramp is the easiest way to build cattle pens to load a semi trailer. If you are building a smaller handling system, consider purchasing a portable loading ramp and a cattle chute with a wheel kit to swap them out, as necessary.

Bonus: A wheel kit allows you to store your chute in a barn or shed when not in use!

About the Author

Dana Charban, Manager of Content Strategies and Journalist for Arrowquip, catching black cow in Q-Catch 86 Series cattle chute

Dana Charban

As a small town girl from rural Manitoba, Dana Charban grew up around agriculture and farming her en...

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