By Michelle Proctor, Senior Information Specialist
"Many cattle producers use a variation of the traditional holding pen, alley, crowding tub, and chute corral, in order to isolate their cattle for implantation, castration, A.I., transport, etc.," said Rex Ricketts, director of the University of Missouri Extension, Commercial Agriculture Program (CA). Ricketts also raises Angus and Charolais on his farm near Hallsville.
During the past few decades new designs have evolved, aimed at lessening the cattle’s stress. "Lower immunity to disease, reduced milk production, lower weight gain, less feed efficiency and abortions can result from allowing cattle to become stressed," said Craig Payne, University of Missouri Extension and CA Program veterinarian. "Exposure to stress can be reduced by good stockmanship: proper handling techniques and corrals designed for easier animal flow by recognizing the cow’s natural propensities for directed movement."
"When cattle come from a pasture through the holding pen gate, there should be a second gate behind the animals," said Ron Gill, Texas AgriLife Extension Service. "Their natural instinct is to turn around when blocked and return from where they came. If the next open gate is adjacent to the one you just closed, cattle will naturally flow through it without being pressured, because that is the direction they want to go." Gill recommends that producers use pens designed so that the handler does not have to get behind the cattle. "Work from their sides where they can see you. This action maintains cattle flow and that is your objective."
The two most popular options in design of modern low stress corrals are the Bud Box, a small rectangular corral, created by late stockman Bud Williams and those with round crowd tubs and curving alleys designed by animal behaviorist, Temple Grandin. Both Williams and Grandin believe each of their distinct designs accommodate an animal’s natural instincts. However, they do not necessarily agree on what are those natural instincts. Both prefer that the corral be designed where the handler can remain outside and, when properly trained, can use his/her skills to guide the animal to make choices that result in the animal ending up where the handler wants them to be.
There is a consensus among expert stockmen that five basic principles of animal behavior must be acknowledged in cattle handling design:
Cattle like to come back the way they came;
Cattle want to go around anything that has been pressuring them;
Cattle want to see you;
Cattle want to be with and will go to other cattle;
Cattle can only process one main thought at a time.
Dr. Payne believes the first two principles are most important to consider when choosing your corral design. Experts in stockmanship each have their favorites but basically agree that construction of a Bud Box will be less costly for the producer, and probably create less risk of injury for both the handler and the animal.
Williams himself said that the Bud Box is "not for amateurs", but his widow Eunice Williams wrote in a recent email, "It doesn’t take more skill (than required for the Grandin systems) but perhaps a little understanding. Temple has made the statement that she has to design corrals to be Idiot Proof. Bud and I have refused to buy in to the concept that people working livestock are Idiots. I doubt if anyone who has worked livestock very much hasn’t had animals try to "break back". I don’t think that they had to have a lot of skill in order for this to happen. All that is needed is to work the Bud Box properly. Animals that are pressured to make them go where they can’t go, or where they don’t want to go—will break back. The Bud Box puts the animal in the frame of mind of wanting to go where you want it to go—up the chute."
Most experienced stockmen prefer the sides of the enclosures not be solid. Solid gates that minimize distractions are acceptable, but open sides or sides that are at least open on the upper portion allow for the best communication with cattle. By standing ahead and to the side of a cow’s front shoulder, the handler can pressure the cow to move forward. If he is in the pen and standing in front of the cow, the cow will turn around and go in the opposite direction.
On the Williams website, http://stockmanship.com/ , on July 14, 2010, Eunice Williams posted an article clearing up some misconceptions about operating the Bud Box. The article also offers some sizing optimums. She wrote, "The Bud Box should be fairly open so the animals will go into it easily. Coming from a 12’ wide alley into a 14’ wide pen also causes them to enter willingly. For loading trucks the box should be 14’ wide and 28-30’ long. These dimensions work well either on foot or horseback and are necessary to hold the number of cattle that will go onto the larger truck compartments." For loading a squeeze chute, Williams recommends the Bud Box be built 14’ x 20’
Drs. Ron Gill and Rick Machen, professors and Extension livestock specialists, Texas A & M, wrote, "The length/depth needed is determined by the size of the group handled. The Box needs to be deep enough to allow the cattle to flow to the back of the box, reach the dead-end, and turn around. The handler must close the entry gate and get in position before the cattle transition out into the intended alley or chute. As with a tub corral, handlers should never overfill the Box. Success depends on the flow into, transition, and flow out of the Box."
Temple Grandin’s designs are based on her theory that cattle like to move in circles, thus she designs round crowd pens and/or tubs and curved alleys. The crowd pen is built in a 180 degree arc, which makes cattle think they are going back to their point of entry. Like the Bud Box, the crowd pen should never be overloaded. Cattle need room to turn, therefore the crowd pen should be less than half filled. The cattle should be able to move easily into the single file chute.
Although Grandin’s designs feature man gates to allow people to escape from charging cattle, the sides are solid so that the animals cannot see people or other moving objects at the end of the chute. She also believes that a solid crowd gate is important to prevent cattle from trying to go back to where they actually came from. In the chutes and alleys, the animals only see the animal in front of them. That satisfies one of the aforementioned stockmen’s basic principles: that cattle want to follow and/or be with other animals.
Grandin has designed cattle movement facilities for large ranches and feedlots, as well as smaller operations. Diagrams of her designs are available online at her website www.grandinlivestockhandlingsystems.com Both William’s and Grandin’s designs are backed by solid theories of low stress cattle handling. They both reduce the risk of injury to handlers as well as cattle. Preference for building one or the other will be guided by space, intended use (truck loading, herd health work, etc.), the number of cattle normally moved, the number of handlers available, and the size of financial investment one wants to make.