Cattle Handling Facilities: Rome Was Not Built in a Day

As the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.” Neither is a cattle ranch. Although it would be awesome to always have the newest and best facilities and equipment at your disposal, it is not always feasible. However, we strive to continuously improve our ranch to offer a better environment for our cattle. One example of this is through our cattle handling facility.

My family hasn’t always ran beef cattle. My Grandpa Geis was a dairy farmer, while my Grandpa Burcham raised horses. As a result, when my folks began the beef cattle enterprise there wasn’t a single facility for handling the cattle. Since calves need to be vaccinated and sick animals need a way to be treated, we built our first cattle handling facility based on what some of our neighbor’s facilities looked like. Below is a picture of it.

Original Cattle Handling Facility

I wanted to install a sound system so we could listen to some sweet beats while working calves, but got vetoed on that idea.

It was a V shaped pen that funneled down to a short alley. At the end was a headgate to hold the cattle while we treated them. This functioned better than trying to rope the calves or corner them behind a gate, but it left a lot to be desired. The calves wanted to turn around when they reached the narrow end of the V. Plus, person moving the calves (which was almost always Dad) got kicked a lot. In addition, there were holes left by the paneling that a calf could get their foot caught in, which we never had happen but I always worried about.

We used this system for a few years, but after doing some reading about Dr. Temple Grandin’s cattle handling concepts, we decided it was time to update the facility for both cattle movement and Dad’s sore shins. Now ideally we would tear everything out and build a state-of-the-art system, but it wasn’t feasible. First, we didn’t have $25,000 for that kind of a system, and second, it wouldn’t fit in this area without blocking a road.

Instead we built our own system. It would borrow from Grandin’s ideas while fitting our budget and space constraints. We created a crowding tub that would allow the calves to turn more effectively into the alley, as well as protect Dad from being kicked. It would also have solid sides so the calves couldn’t get their feet caught in the panel, but not too tall so they could be worked from the ground without a catwalk.

The process began by tearing out some of the V shaped pen. We had one of the sides bubble out to make the tub. A gate would swing around in the tub and crowd the calves toward the alley. We would use panel for the support and then put a heavy plastic sheeting over it to make the sides solid. The picture below shows the project part-way completed.

That is a post in the foreground, in case you were confused. It confused me at first too.

That is a post in the foreground, in case you were confused. It confused me at first too.

After making the tub and covering it with the plastic sheeting, we started work on the alley. Because it was a tighter area, we built it stronger using 2″x12″ boards. In front of that, we purchased a squeeze chute that we could put in front of the headgate to better restrain the calves. The final result is in this picture. If you want to see it in action, check it out on Youtube.

A masterpiece of design! Or something like that.

A masterpiece of design! Or something like that.

After using three times this year, I can say with confidence it has greatly improved the handling experience for the cattle and for us. Dad is no longer getting kicked, which is a plus for him, but we don’t get to laugh at him as much. It goes to show DIY can work!

Although we like this system, this is by no means the final iteration of our cattle handling facilities. We want to continue to improve, so when it is economically feasible the next step will be a portable system that we can move to the cows, instead of moving the cows to it. Just like Rome, we’ll built this ranch brick by brick, always looking for ways that we can do things better.

-Jake

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3 responses to “Cattle Handling Facilities: Rome Was Not Built in a Day

  1. To bad you did not know who Bud Williams was. You could not pay me enough to work cattle in a facility like the one you built. What a shame, you wasted all that time and money on something so sub par.

    • Actually, my initial inclination was using a Bud Box. However, it would’ve required completely tearing apart the pens we have. The catch pen runs parallel with the only good access road to the pasture, and considering it is essential that cattle make that turn in a Bud Box it would block that road. The other option is we would have to move the entire working facility and I was not going to remove 40 railroad ties set in gravel.

      When we get to the point of purchasing a portable system, then we’ll use a Bud Box with that. It’s more cost effective and easier to move than a portable tub. Like everything else, it all comes one step at a time.

      • One additional thought, what often get missed in the Bud Box vs crowding tub debate are the other points of cattle handling that Dr. Grandin was the first to successfully articulate to a wide audience. Minimize distractions, don’t get excited, use cattle’s natural circling instinct to your advantage–these ideas were not even considered by the vast majority of cattlemen until she published her work. Her research and its acceptance is an important chapter in how cattle production has improved and how it continues to improve.

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