Beef Cattle Handling Facilities
Article reprinted with the permission of The University of Tennessee Extension Service.Dr. Clyde Lane, Jr.
Professor – Animal Science, The University of Tennessee
Beef producers need handling facilities to carry out recommended management practices in an efficient and safe manner. These facilities do not have to be expensive nor elaborate but they must be functional. The handling facility must be designed to hold the animal while practices are being performed and then allow for an easy and complete release.
The first step in planning a beef cattle handling facility is to decide if the facility will be either an onfarm constructed facility, purchased facility or a combination of the two. Numerous factors need to be considered when constructing or purchasing a facility. The facility must be made of materials heavy enough to hold the animal securely without bending or breaking. To assist in the selection and construction of beef cattle handling facilities, a short discussion on purchasing and constructing facilities follows.
Considerations in Selecting a Commercial Handling Facility
Purchase of a handling facility represents a considerable expenditure of funds. Every effort must be made to select the facility that best meets the needs of the operation. A short discussion of major facility components will follow:
Headgates are available in a variety of types. There are self-catching, scissors stanchion, fully opening stanchion and a positive control or guillotine types. Producers with limited labor when cattle are being worked may need the self catching headgate. This headgate closes due to pressure of the animal’s shoulder pushing on the bars. This works quite well if properly adjusted. If improperly adjusted, the animal may be caught at the hips instead of the neck. This creates a very stressful and dangerous situation since the animal must be backed up to release the headgate. If a producer does not want to take this risk then a different type headgate should be selected. The stanchion types usually require someone to open and close them. Most of these headgates will open wide enough for the animal to pass through when the headgate is completely opened.
Check to see if animals on your farm can exit through the headgate before purchasing. The positive control or guillotine does not allow animals to pass through. Animals generally must be moved backwards and released from the side.
Each type headgate has advantages and disadvantages. Each producer must decide which type will work best in his/her operation. Regardless of the type selected, be sure that it does not have openings or areas that will allow an animal’s foot or leg to get caught.
Squeeze ChuteThe type or kind of squeeze chute needs to be carefully evaluated. The first priority is that easy access is available to the neck on each side. Vaccinations represent a major portion of the activity that takes place in the chute and must be given in the neck according to Beef Quality Assurance guidelines. A chute that does not allow for easy access to the neck is not acceptable. The chute should have vertical bars that can be easily lowered for easy access. Panels on the bottom are desirable and should be easily removed if the bottom side of the animals must be accessed. Controls for the chute should positioned so they are easily accessible and can be operated with ease.
Controls that require considerable effort to operate should be avoided. In addition to being accessible, the controls should retract as much as possible to prevent accidental bumping or hitting. Controls that protrude should be padded to prevent injury to the operator.
Rear Gates and Palpation CagesThere are different types of rear gates available for keeping animals from backing out of the chute. Some move up and down, while others move across behind the chute. Some may even have a swinging gate. Be sure to look closely to find one that will be comfortable to operate.
Producers should consider adding a palpation cage to the chute. The tendency is to save money by not purchasing this component since many producers do not pregnancy check their cows. Remember there are other reasons that access to the rear of the animals is needed. Castration, artificial insemination and assisting with calving are just few practices where rear access is needed. Very few people that have purchased a palpation cage have ever expressed regret for doing so.
Tubs or crowding chutes can also be purchased. These need to be constructed out of heavy materials and operate smoothly and quietly. Adjustable chutes are desirable since a narrower chute is needed for calves compared to cows. Chutes that are solid instead of open are desirable since animals will be exposed to fewer outside activities and will move through the chute much easier.
Considerations in Constructing a Handling Facility on the Farm
Many of the same considerations for a purchased facility apply when constructing a facility on the farm. The major difference is that most constructed facilities are made of wood and have few moving parts. This means that every component must be properly constructed and placed to be permanent. In very few situations is it advisable to construct a headgate. When labor and material costs are considered, it is generally not advisable to build the headgate. Commercial headgates are generally more functional.
The holding or squeeze chute when constructed with wood will probably need to have two gates to serve as the sides. Be sure that the distance between the gates is no more than 26 inches. Making the chute wider may result in animals turning around or being difficult to catch in the headgate. Be sure to hinge the gates on the posts holding the headgate with the latches on the end away from the headgate. An up and down or side sliding gate would be desirable to restrict backward movement of animals.
The working chute also needs to be no wider than 26 inches. Consideration should be given to constructing a modified “V” chute. This is where the bottom of the chute is pulled in approximately 6 inches on each side up to 26 inches high and then flared out to a width of 26 inches. This modified “V” allows for the working of cows and calves in the same chute. Plans are available at the local Extension office.
Any individual that owns a beef animal should have a way to restrain the animal. The cost and complexity of the facility will be determined by the number of animals on the farm and the available labor. Excellent facilities make performing recommended management practices much easier and safer for both the animal and producer. Each producer should follow basic facility guidelines when constructing or purchasing a handling facility. Assistance with design and selection of facilities is available at the local Extension office.
References and Contact Information
This article originally appeared in the Southeastern Expo '04 Farm and Home booklet and has been reprinted with permission from Mr. Milton W. Orr, Extension Agent, The University of Tennessee Extension Service - Greene County.