cattle handling

A well-designed cattle handling facility

Cattle handling facilities that are properly designed make handling such as dosing, sorting and veterinarian examinations more effective, prevent stress and injuries to workers and animals and require minimal manual labour.

When Rian van Wyk, a Brangus breeder from Ermelo in South Africa, decided it was time for a new cattle management facility, he began researching the cattle management theories of Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor associated with the University of Colorado’s faculty of agriculture and a world-renowned consultant on animal behaviour.

Rian, along with Ryno Keeve, from the company Vision Cattle Quip, applied Temple’s principles and built a cattle handling facility where as few as two people can easily manage a large herd of cattle, where cattle stay calm and where injuries to both people and animals are a thing of the past.

On her website, Temple demonstrates that it is better to totally enclose certain sections of a pen, especially the crush (or chutes, as she calls them), to prevent the cattle from seeing other animals, people or vehicles moving, which can make them nervous and cause them to get stop moving forward. She believes that many of the frustrations with cattle handling can be avoided when you take into consideration what the animal sees while it is moving through the handling facilities. She says farmers should walk through the pens and chutes themselves to see what the animals see.

Noise, shadows, puddles or moving objects can cause cattle to not enter a pen or to hesitate in the crush. Cattle will also stop suddenly and try to turn around when they have to move from light areas to areas in shadow.

A cattle management facility designed according to Dr Temple Grandin’s principles


Although one is inclined to build a facility on level ground, a slight slope is not bad. It helps with drainage and can be used to ease the flow of livestock. The crush should always move upwards against the slope as cattle walk easier uphill than down. Cattle don’t like a pen where water dams up. Ryno recommends that you try to find a spot with a stony surface, or that you dig up the soil surface to a depth of about 200mm and then fill it in with gravel. Avoid cement floors altogether.


Cattle are inclined to bunch up in corners. If corners are unavoidable they should preferably not be sharp corners. Cattle flow more easily in circular facilities.


A circular or a semi-circular crush (or chute) in the front of the facility prevents the cattle from milling around as much as they would if they were herded into a corner or in a funnel. Cattle also move more easily through curved crushes. The crush should be so designed that an animal can only see about two cattle-lengths ahead.


Crushes that are too long can cause the cattle to lie down if they are standing too long. It also takes a lot of time to fill up. A crush that is too short doesn’t have a good flow and needs to be refilled more often. Ryno believes that a crush should be 18-20m long to accommodate 12-15 head of cattle. Such a crush should not be wider than 750mm on the inside otherwise younger animals can easily turn around inside. An acceptable height for a crush is 1.6m. A calf crush for calves up to and including weaner size should be 1.2-1.5m high and 450-500mm wide.


Herding pens that are too large and too wide allow cattle to run around in the pen, warns Ryno. In a pen such as this you need a lot of cattlemen to herd the cattle into the next pen. He says that long, narrow herding pens are also better because the cattle won’t just push past a person.


Gates need to be opened and closed quickly. Avoid long, heavy gates and make sure that those you do have are in the right place to give access to an animal in the crush, to get the cattle into the pen, or for you to enter the pen without having to climb over pipes. Make sure that gates close firmly and easily when you have to close them quickly. Where possible, you should also ensure that the gate posts are joined together at the top to avoid a gate pulling a post out of line.


Ryno says although handling facilities are expensive to set up, farmers shouldn’t try to save on materials by using thinner pipes or old telephone poles. “It is essential to use whole pipes in areas where there is heavy pressure, such as the crush and the loading bay. These should be pipes of 48mm x 3mm (or 3.5mm).” Where cables are used in the holding pens, they should be rigged in such a manner that they can be tightened again at any time.

Who is Temple Grandin?

Dr Mary Temple Grandin (Wikimedia commons)

Dr Mary Temple Grandin is a professor at the agricultural faculty of the University of Colorado in America

As a child she was diagnosed with autism and is today regarded as the world’s most prominent autistic adult.

She believes her autism has given her a unique insight into animal behaviour and temperament. Temple has presented many lectures about her first-hand experience of anxiety and how it is to feel threatened by everything in her environment. She says it is these experiences that urged her to develop cattle-friendly management processes.

Her theories are based on an animal’s flight zone and maintain that handlers can, with minimum effort, make animals move in the desired direction by simply walking in the right direction into an animal or herd’s flight zone.
Her handling facility design is also based on the flight zone theory and is laid out in such a way that the animals will move in a given direction simply to keep a handler who is standing in a specific spot out of their flight zone.

She strongly against noise and running around where cattle or other livestock are being handled.

She was named by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people shortly after the publication of the film Temple Grandin, an autobiographical portrayal of her life and work. She is also the author of a number of bestsellers, including: Animals Make Us Human, Animals in Translation and Thinking in Pictures.

Manage cattle with the least labour

André Ferreira

André Ferreira of the farm Uplands, near Bethlehem in the Free State, runs a mixed farming enterprise with Meat Merinos and Merinos that make up about 15% of the farm’s turnover, a Bovelder stud (25% of the turnover), and crop cultivation (60%). He is also a former chairman of the Free State Red Meat Producers’ Organisation.

His livestock handling facility is indispensable for his livestock component. Over the years, his systems have been adjusted so that they can be managed with the least amount of labour. “I only use four workers to handle approximately 1 000 ewes and 500 cows on the farm.”

Uplands’ pen configuration with 12 pens is arranged in a wheel formation. The hub section is circular so that the animals cannot bunch up in a corner with their backs to the handler. In this way, they are easily moved to the 46 m-long crush with plenty of room to handle sufficient cattle each time.

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