Extension Ag Update
January/February 2001
Articles Research Resources Internet Links Ag Facts Education

Corral Hints

Spring cattle herd health procedures can be labor intensive, stressful, and in many cases dangerous. Now is an ideal time to review your handling facility design and condition. Good handling facility design, and handling techniques can reduce the stress and danger to both the cattlemen and cattle.

Handling facility design has changed over the past two decades. One of the most significant improvements has been the introduction of curved solidly-enclosed crowding areas and chutes, taking advantage of cattle's instinct to escape from confinement. Using a curved crowding area and working chute takes advantage of cattle's tendency to circle away from perceived danger. The solid sides of the crowding area limits cattle's vision, controlling distractions and focusing them on the desired "escape" route. The working chute entrance offers a "false escape" route for the cattle from the crowding area. Once in the solid sided working chute, the cattle can not see the squeeze chute until they are at the rear gates of the chute. This helps keep the cattle remain calmer and reduces balking. The solid sides on the crowding area and chutes have the advantage of the cattle's limited eyesight. The animals see the walls as "solid walls" and are less likely to "test" them as a possible escape route. If the cattle can see through an opening, they are likely to try to make an escape route out of it when pressured.

Many older facilities can be improved by adding solid sides to existing crowding and working areas. Attaching used mine belting or thin gauge metal sheeting are examples of ways to enclose existing facilities. Remember to attach the material so it does not flop or make banging noise. Either of these could result in increased balking.

In addition to good facilities, calm, methodical handling techniques can make a big difference in the stress level and dangers of working cattle. Avoid loud noises and sudden movements when working with cattle. Be patient, move slowly and deliberately around livestock. This will help keep the cattle calm and they will move easier. Remember it only takes seconds to agitate an animal, it will take around 40 minutes for the animal to completely calm back down. When working with animals in the working chute, walk along the walkway from the front to the back to move animals forward. The animal will see you coming and not be startled. Then as you pass, the animal's natural tendency will be to move forward away from you. As for cattle behavior, any cow or bull identified, as easily agitated, or overly aggressive toward handlers should be culled immediately.

Several resources are available to help area producers design and build better corrals. Two Midwest Plan Service publications, which provide component design recommendations and total system layout examples, are available for order from your local University of Illinois Extension office: "Modern Corral Design" (OKE 938) and "Corrals for Handling Beef Cattle" (CAN723).