Constructing cattle yards for small landholders

Page last updated: Thursday, 14 December 2017 - 1:50pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Cattle behaviours that affect yard design

Some of the cattle behaviours that affect yard design include:

  • Natural instincts - knowing the natural instincts and common behaviour of livestock will help operators handle animals quietly and calmly, and design yards that work with, and not against, these behaviours.
  • Cattle have a 300 degree field-of-view and can see threats from almost all directions.
  • Natural herders - cattle like to be with the herd and follow other animals. If they see the herd beside them in a race or forcing yard, they will stop. Solid sides on races, loading ramps and forcing pens can help to keep cattle calm and moving.
  • Cattle move more easily through a curved race because they cannot see people standing by the squeeze chute.
  • Ensure the entrance of the race is not too dark or appears to be a dead end with no place to go — a cow standing in the forcing pen must be able to see a minimum of two body lengths up the single file race.
  • Cattle do not like to move towards bright light or shiny reflections so yard orientation should avoid situations where stock in the race, forcing pens or on the loading ramp are moving directly into sun or shadows and that the handler is not looking into the sun.
  • Cattle also prefer to move back towards their paddock, so circular yards work better if the stock are moving back towards where they entered the yard.
  • Cattle should move easily through the yards and enter the race without hesitation. If they baulk and refuse to move at a particular point in the system, it is important to observe them carefully to find out why. Small distractions such as changes in floor type or fence construction can make cattle baulk.

Recommended cattle yard features

Some of the recommended features of a cattle yard include:

  • Holding yard - avoid corners so that the only place cattle will bunch is in the directions they need to move, such as towards forcing yards
  • Forcing yard - a half circle yard with gates that swing 300 degrees allow operators to push cattle up the race from behind the gate and at arms’ length.
  • The race - a curved race encourages cattle to move freely from one point to another but there are other race designs available. The ideal height is 1.5m and the recommended width between opposite posts is 675–700mm (plus the thickness of the rails).
  • Loading ramp - ideally ramps should be 750mm wide between the rails. A ramp length of at least 3.5-4.6m will give the required rise to reach the ideal 1.2m loading height. A level section at least 0.8-1m long at the top of the ramp will encourage stock movement onto and off trucks.
  • Ramp floors need to be non-slip and not cause a hollow noise. These can be stepped in concrete — allow a 450mm step length for every 100mm rise. Steel floors should not move or buckle under weight. Animals should not be able to see the ground below.
  • Gate latches need to be positive bolt/slam shut spring-loaded, especially in forcing yards. Chain and slot-style latches are more dangerous to operators but are a good addition in some parts of the yards to prevent cattle escapes. Latches should not protrude outside the boundary of the gate.
  • Non-slip pressed steel or concrete catwalks beside forcing pens, races and loading ramps assist in animal husbandry operations.

Labour efficiency, operator safety, productive stock flow and low stress cattle handling are the key factors to keep in mind when investing in handling facilities.

Well designed yards based on an understanding of animal behaviour will increase productivity, improve meat quality and be more efficient with your time and money. It is wise to talk to other producers in your area, industry experts and yard manufacturers to help you develop an efficient yard design.