How to Handle Cattle More Easily

You'll make more money and reduce your workload if you understand the key points of handling cattle properly.

Lighting is critical.

Cattle react strongly to harsh contrasts of light and dark. Lighting should be adequate, even and diffuse. For example, something as simple as lighting up dark pens and buildings encourages cattle to enter. When loading animals at night, light the truck interior with frosted lamps mounted inside. But make sure the light isn't glaring into the animals' eyes. Loading and squeeze chutes should face either north or south to eliminate direct, bright sunlight aimed at the animals' face. Cattle don't like surprises. If animals are balking at one place in the handling system, a shadow or change in floor level such as a gutter could be the cause.

How to prevent balking

Some simple steps can prevent balking.

The animal flight zone: positions A and B are the most efficient positions for controlling livestock movement.


Cattle feel trapped and will balk if they see a dead end. Cattle should be able to see one pathway of escape ahead. Sliding gates and one-way chutes should be constructed so animals can see through them, in order to take advantage of their following instinct.Cattle will balk at loud or high frequency noises. Rubber stops on gates and squeeze chutes will help. Livestock refuse to walk over drain gates in the middle of the floor. Install drains outside the chute and crowd pen, and never near the entrance of the single file chute.

 

 

 

Solid chute sides are best

The simplest way to keep cattle from being scared by outside distractions is to install solid sides in single-file chutes, crowding pens and loading chutes. This prevents the animal from seeing out, and light from shining in. The crowd pen gate should also be solid to prevent animals from turning back.

 

The zebra-striped pattern cast by chutes with open bar sides causes balking. The pattern of alternating light and dark has the same effect on cattle as a cattle guard. Solid-side fences prevent this problem.

 

 

 

Why curved chutes work

A curved loading chute with solid sides prevents cattle from seeing distractions.

A curved chute system is more efficient than a straight system for two reasons. First, it prevents the animal from seeing any distractions until it has moved almost into the truck or chute. Secondly, a curved chute takes advantage of the animals's natural tendency to circle around a handler.Cattle can be driven most efficiently at a 40 degree to 60 degree angle to the animal's shoulder. The handler, working on a catwalk on the inside radius of the curve, allows the animal to circle naturally. The solid chute sides block out all visual distractions except for the handler on the catwalk. Moving ahead in the chute is a natural reaction.

 

New ideas for loading chutes

Design of this area is critical.Permanent loading ramps should be 30 inches wide so cattle can move up the ramp single file, with a flat 5 foot level section at the top. A self-aligning dock bumper bridges the gap between the chute and the truck. Telescoping side gates or panels which fit against the truck, prevent animals from jumping out through the gap. Ramps used specifically for unloading cattle should be 8 feet wide so animals have a clear path to exit. Never use this ramp for loading.Steep ramps can cause slipping. Permanently installed loading ramps should have no more than a 20 degree slope, portable or adjustable loading ramps no more than a 25 degree slope.Concrete ramps should be built like a staircase using steps with 12 inch tread and a 3.5 inch to 4 inch rise. The surface of the steps should be grooved for good footing. Wooden or adjustable ramps should have cleats 1.5 inches by 1.5 inches spaced 8 inches apart.A curved single-file chute is most efficient for forcing cattle to enter a truck or squeeze chute. Loading chutes should have solid sides and a gradual curve or 15 degree bend.

Good handling pays profits

More than 50 percent of all livestock bruises are caused by rough handling. Some research showed that 7 percent to 9 percent of cattle marketed had severe bruising.To avoid unnecessary bruising, walk through alleys and loading chutes to check for broken side rails, protruding objects and nails. Shiny, rubbed spots or tufts of hair indicate where cattle are bumping. Gates and corners can be padded.Overloading trucks with just one or two extra cattle can double the incidence of bruising. Don't rush animals. Research shows a skilled crew can handle more cattle per hour by handling them gently.

It's your business, too

Good cattle handling is everybody's business. The Livestock Markets Association of Canada believes everyone must set a good example, because poor handling causes economic losses, and because the eyes of the agricultural industry and the consuming public are on us. Proper cattle handling is smart business.

The material on this page is based on research by Temple Grandin, internationally known livestock handling specialist from Urbana, Illinois.