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   Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Last Update: March 2004

Handling facilities are an essential part of any cattle operation. Well-built, functional facilities contribute much to easy, safe and rapid handling of cattle. Properly designed handling systems allow one person to work the cattle as required. Regardless of design, extra help always makes handling cattle easier and safer.

Good handling facilities need not be overly expensive. It pays to invest in quality for critical components such as a good squeeze and sturdy gates and latches. Always use pressure treated posts.

Every cattleperson's needs and situations are different. Some can build directly from plan leaf lets; others have to redesign a handling system to fit their farmsteads and individual requirements. Various plans are available from the Canada Plan Service (CPS). To view or download these plans, view the following link, Farm Structures and Handling Systems.

Sample beef cattle handling facilities

Panoramic Vision

Cattle Behaviour and Operator Response

Handling cattle is much easier if livestock behaviour is understood. Cattle have panoramic vision, that is, they can see all around without turning their heads (Figure 1). This affects their response to the environment and actions of the cattle handler.


The coarse concentric circles represent the animal's field of vision in which it has no depth perception. The small shaded area in front of the animal represents its binocular field. It has depth perception in this 25 to 50 degrees area.

Herd Instinct

Cattle have a strong instinct to follow the leader. The working chute should be long enough to take advantage of this instinct. The minimum length for a working chute is 20 ft. (6 m). In larger facilities, 30 to 50 ft. (9 to 15 m) is recommended.

Cattle can become agitated and stressed if isolated. If a lone animal refuses to move, the handler should release it from the crowding pen and bring it back with another group of cattle.

Response to Light

Cattle fear harsh contrasts of light and dark. This is particularly frustrating when handling cattle in loading chutes, scales and working areas. Alternating light and dark patterns cause cattle to balk and they may refuse to cross a shadow. Balking can also be caused by a bright spot in the chute. Handlers should be cautious about causing shadows. Keep light intensity and patterns as uniform as possible; there should be no sudden changes in floor level or texture.

Cattle tend to move towards light. When loading cattle at night, a frosted light positioned inside the truck so that it does not glare in their faces helps attract cattle.

Livestock will balk if they have to look directly into the sun. Face loading chutes and squeeze chutes either north or south to minimize the effects of bright sunlight.

Sometimes it is difficult to persuade cattle to enter a roofed working area, especially in bright sunlight. Animals will enter more easily if they are lined up single file. Extend the working chute 10 to 16 ft. (3 to 5m) outside the building. A building wall should never be placed at the junction between the working chute and crowding pen.

Response to Movement

Cattle will balk if they see a moving or flapping object. Before moving or loading cattle, walk through the chute and check for obstructions at cow eye level. When working cattle, handlers should stand back from the headgate so approaching animals cannot see them. One animal balking spreads its fear to the next animal in line. When an animal is being moved through a working chute, do not frustrate the animal by prodding it before an opening to escape can be seen. A plastic garbage bag attached to a broom handle is a good tool for moving cattle in pens. Cattle move away from the rustling plastic.

When moving cattle in open areas or large pens, well-trained dogs are recommended. Once animals are confined in the crowding pen and working chute, do not allow dogs near the fences. They only agitate the cattle.

The crowding pen, working chute and loading chute should have solid sides. Solid sides prevent animals from seeing people, equipment and other outside distractions.

The chute entrance from the crowding pen should have one continuous straight wall never a symmetrical funnel. The crowding pen gate works best with a latch stop that locks automatically at several points in its swing.

Cattle should be able to see other animals along the chute in front of them. Cattle will balk if a chute appears to be a dead end. Construct the blocking gate at the working chute entrance and one-way gates in the working chute so that animals can see through them.

Flight Zone

Flight zone refers to how close you can get to an animal before it moves away from you. Flight zone size varies with each animal. The flight zone radius for range cattle may be as much as 300 ft. (90 m), while for feedlot cattle the flight zone may be only 5 to 26 ft. (1.5 to 8 m).

When a handler penetrates an animal's flight zone (Figure 2), the animal will move away. If the handler penetrates the flight zone too deeply, the animal will either turn back and run past the handler or break and run away. The best place for a handler to work is on the edge of the flight zone. This causes an animal to move away in an orderly manner. The animal tends to stop moving when the handler retreats from the flight zone.

The shaded area in Figure 2 shows the best position for the handler when moving an animal in a curved working chute. To make the animal move forward the handler moves into Position B, just inside the flight zone boundary. By retreating to Position A, just outside the flight zone boundary, the handler encourages the animal to stop.

Many handlers get too close to cattle when driving them down an alley or putting them in a crowding pen. If cattle attempt to rear up or turn back, the handler should retreat from the animal's flight zone. Minimize shouting to avoid increasing the size of the flight zone

General Requirements


The recommended dimensions for beef cattle corrals and handling facilities are shown in Table 1:

Under 600lb.
(270 kg)
600-1200 lb.
(270-540 kg)
Over 1200lb.
540 kg
Holding Area
- Worked Immediately




-Held overnight animal 45(4.5) v50(5.0) 60(6.0)
Working Chute w/Vertical Sides
- Width
in.(mm) 18(450) 22(550) 28(700)
-Desirable Length (minimum) ft.(m) ---------- 24(7.2) --------------
Working Chute w/Sloping Sides
- Width at 6" above grade
in.(mm) ------- 22-24(500-600) ----------
-Width at 5ft.(1.5m)above grade in.(mm) ---------- 32(800) --------------
-Desirable length (minimum) ft.(m) ---------- 24(7.2) --------------
Working Chute and Feedlot Line Fences
- Recommended minimum height
ft.(m) ---------- 5(1.5) ---------------
-Depth of Posts in ground ft.(m) ---------- 3(1.0) ---------------
Corrals and Bull Pen Fences
- Recommended height
ft.(m) ---------- 6(1.8) ---------------
-Depth of posts in ground ft.(m) ---------- 4(1.2) ---------------
Loading Chute
- Width
in.(mm) 26(650) 30-32(750-800) 32-35(800-875)
-Length (minimum) ft.(m) --------- 12(3.6) ---------------
-Rise rise:run ----------- 1:4 -----------------
Ramp height for:
- gooseneck trailer in.(mm) --------- 15(375) ---------------
- pick-up truck in.(mm) --------- 28(700) ---------------
- van-type truck in.(mm) -------- 40(1000) ---------------
- tractor trailer in.(mm) -------- 48(1200) ---------------
- double deck in.(mm) ------- 100(2500) ---------------
Access or Collecting Alley Width ft.(m) -------- 12(3.6) ---------------
Note: Cow-calf operations use dimmensions for over 1200lb. (540kg).
Add 2in. to all chute widths to accommodate bulls, exotic or unusally large cattle and cows heavy with calf.

Handling facilities should be close to all pens. Choose a well drained area with a slope of not more than two per cent away from the headgate and squeeze area. Cattle move more easily uphill than down, but move most easily on a flat surface. A rough surfaced concrete pad in the chute and around the headgate prevents depressions from forming and gives cattle solid footing. Concrete directly in front of the headgate becomes slippery when wet and should be installed with caution.

Location and Drainage

Handling facilities should be close to all pens. Choose a well drained area with a slope of not more than two per cent away from the headgate and squeeze area. Cattle move more easily uphill than down, but move most easily on a flat surface. A rough surfaced concrete pad in the chute and around the headgate prevents depressions from forming and gives cattle solid footing. Concrete directly in front of the headgate becomes slippery when wet and should be installed with caution.

Components of Handling Facilities

Following are items, designs, and construction features to consider when planning a handling facility.


Corral, Fences and Gates

Strong fences and gates are essential. Use pressure-treated posts to prevent decay. Place posts 8 ft. (2.4m) apart (maximum). Feedlot fences should be four rails or 5 ft. (1.5 m) high; requiring 8 ft. (2.4 m) posts. Corral fences should be five rails or 6 ft. (1.8 m) high (Figure 3); requiring 10 ft. (3 m) posts. Curved fences encourage cattle to move along the fence line. Cattle do not have the opportunity to bunch up in a corner as in a rectangular pen.

Access Alley and Holding Pens

An access alley, about 12 ft. (3.6 m) wide, is used to bring cattle from the barn, pens or pasture to the holding pen. At least one holding pen, sized to hold the herd, and preferably a second pen, are required for sorting. Allow about 20ft.2 (2 m2) per head for cattle that will be worked immediately, and at least 60 ft.2 (6 m2) for 1200 lb. (540kg) cattle to be held for several hours. In the latter case, water and feed are required.

Crowding Pen and Crowding Gate

A crowding pen (tub) equipped with a crowding gate is required to direct cattle from the holding pen to the working chute. The crowding pen should be solid sided. Steel grain bin panels make excellent crowding tubs. Four panels from a 19 ft. (5.7m) diameter steel bin make a 5ft. (1.5 m) high crowding pen with a 20 ft. (6 m) arc.

Figure 4 shows a good crowding gate. A solid crowding gate works best. It prevents cattle from seeing through the gate. The gate post is 31/2 in. (90 mm) diameter pipe embedded in concrete. Gate height is adjustable to ensure an unobstructed gate swing if snow, ice and manure build up.

Equip the crowding gate with a self locking gate latch. This latch allows the crowding gate to catch automatically, providing ease of operation and safety for the operator. A latch operated by rope from the catwalk provides additional operator convenience.

Figure 5. Cross sections for working chutes - plan S-184

Working Chute

Working chute sides should be solid. Chute width and shape are critical. A straight sided chute is good for uniform animal sizes. Three methods of constructing narrower chutes (Figure 5) are:

  • Install drop-in calf panels made from 4 x 8 ft. (1.2 x 2.4 m) sheets of plywood with 2 x 6 in. (38 x 140mm) framing to reduce the chute width by 6 in. (150 mm).
  • Nail a 2 x 6 in. (38 x 140 mm) on an inside wall of the working chute at 20 in. (500 mm) above grade. This 2 x 6 makes the chute narrower for calves and provides a toe ledge to make a quick exit from the chute.
  • Build a tapered chute 22 to 24 in. (560 to 600 mm) wide at 6 in. (150mm) above grade and 32 in. (800 mm) wide at a height of 5 ft. (1.5 m) above grade.

There is some disagreement about tapered chutes. A tapered chute adapts well to animals of varying sizes but can be a problem when an animal goes "down" or topples backwards. A concrete floor is desirable for chutes getting frequent use.

Working chutes should be 20 to 50ft. (6 to 15 m) long and curved for two reasons. A curve prevents animals from seeing the truck, squeeze chute or people until they are almost at the truck or squeeze chute; it takes advantage of the animals' natural tendency to circle around the handler.

Cattle can be driven most efficiently if the handler uses the flight zone effectively (Figure 2). A well designed, curved working chute has a catwalk for the handler along the inner curve. A curved chute lets the handler stand at the best angle to make animals circle around him/her. Solid sides block out visual distractions except for handlers on the catwalk. A catwalk should not run overtop a working chute. The distance from the catwalk platform to the top of the chute should be about 3 ft. (1m).

Headgates and Squeezes

Herd health care is virtually impossible without a headgate and/or squeeze for restraining cattle. There are many headgates on the market and each of the four basic types (Table 2) are specially suited for certain handling procedures.

A cage (basket) in front of the headgate will stop an animal and prevent it from getting through. Palpation gates at the rear of the squeeze serve to block the working chute and provide access to work at the rear of an animal. On the best squeeze chutes, both sides move in evenly when the squeeze is applied.

The "V" shape of a squeeze helps support the animal. The proper inside width at the bottom of the squeeze is:

  • 6 in. (150 mm) for 250 to 400 lb. (115 to 180 kg) calves
  • 8 in. (200 mm) for 600 to 800 lb. (270 to 360 kg) animals
  • 12 in. (300 mm) for cows and heavy feeders
  • 14 to 16 in. (350 to 400 mm) for larger bulls

Table 2. Types of manually operated headgates

Recommended for Not recommended for Warnings
Self Catcher Hornless cattle, gentle cattle, one-man A.I. Wild cattle,big feedlots, horned cattle, groups of mixed-size cattle (because the gate has to be re- adjusted to catch animals of different sizes). Wild cattle,big feedlots, horned cattle, groups of mixed-size cattle (because the gate has to be re- adjusted to catch animals of different sizes).
Scissors Stanchion General purpose, big feedlots, wild cattle, minimum main- tenance. Adjustable for cattle of mixed sizes. Very large bulls because they may have trouble exiting due to the narrow space between the two bottom pivots. Be careful not to catch the animal's legs or knees between the two halves of the gate or the animal may be injured.
Positive Control Dehorning, wild cattle, big feedlots. Requires less strength to operate than stanchion gates; good head control. Vet clinics where the animal is held in the headgate for a prolonged time. A1 and pregnancy testing are the primary uses of this headgate. More likely to choke than a self-catcher, scissor, or full-opening stanchion.
General purpose, vet clinics, mixed cattle sizes (be- cause the gate seldom needs adjustment). Large bulls can exit easily. Big wild cattle, big feedlots (because many full- opening stanchion headgates are not sturdy enough to withstand constant heavy usage). Mechanisim requires careful maintenance to prevent jamming An excited animal may trip over the lower gate track.
Self-catcher, scissors stanchion, and full-opening stanchion headgates are avaiable in models with either a straight or curved stanchion.

Excessive squeeze pressure in a hydraulic chute can cause suffocation. A hydraulic chute is safe if the pressure relief valve is set correctly. Cattle can also be injured when a fast-moving animal is stopped suddenly by clamping the headgate around its neck. A skilled operator can control the squeeze to slow the animal down before it reaches the headgate.

Figure 6. Blocking gates - plan 1814.

Blocking Gates

Blocking gates prevent unwanted animal movement. They are usually placed at the entrance and exit of the working chute. Two different designs are shown in Figure 6. One is a plywood covered gate running on rollers and track. It is inclined and self closing. The other is a plank gate running on a greased pipe. The gate, when open for cattle movement, should be to the outside of the working chute so it does not interfere with the catwalk.

Either gate can be constructed with openings or made solid by covering with plywood. The choice depends on whether cattle are to move up to the gate and see ahead, or be shut off so they cannot see ahead, as is the case with an A.I. chute. Blocking gates should be open at the working chute entrance and solid when located at the working chute exit (behind squeeze).

Figure 7. One way gates - plan S-182.

One Way Gates

One way gates in working chutes allow cattle to move forward in the chute, but automatically prevent them from backing up. Three types of gates are shown in plan S-182 (Figure 7). Gate choice depends on the number of different types of animals being handled at a given time. Properly designed and located one way gates provide a steady flow of animals with little effort by the handler.

Figure 8. Pregnancy testing and A.I.Chute - plan 1818.

Pregnancy Testing and A.I. Chute

Cows should be contained in 'dark' boxes for artificial insemination (A.I.). For improved conception rates, cows should be handled gently and not allowed to become agitated. An A.I. chute should not be the same chute used for branding, dehorning or injections. Cows can be easily restrained for A.I. or pregnancy testing in a dark box chute that has no headgate or squeeze. The dark box has solid sides, top and front. A cow in the box is inside a quiet, snug, dark enclosure and is restrained from behind. After insemination, the cow is released through a gate at the front. Construction of a special A.I. chute may not be practical for smaller herds so the main working chute headgate is used.

Figure 8 shows a chute designed specifically for beef cow herd pregnancy testing and A.I. Three cows can be brought into position at one time by closing the blocking gates and placing a cross rail behind each animal. After servicing, the blocking gates are opened and cross rails removed. The three cows exit

while three more are brought in. This allows an even flow of cattle through the chute. Cross rails can be put at three different places to keep cows from backing up. The choice of places is determined by animal length. Use solid blocking gates. A 13 in. (325 mm) opening in the chute lets a person enter and exit safety behind the cow.


Figure 9. Herringbone A.I. breeding chute - plan 1819

Select the number of cow positions and man openings in the chute according to the number of cows to be serviced and time available. For larger herds, consideration may be given to the herringbone design A.I. chute shown in Figure 9.

Figure 10. Loading chutes -plans 1816 and 1817

Loading Chutes

Loading chutes should be accessible to an all-weather road. The producer can then take advantage of the market at all times.

Loading chutes (Figure 10) or a stepped, curved chute (Figure 11) may be incorporated as part of the crowding pen, or located adjacent to the entrance of the main working chute. Cattle load best if they move directly from the crowding pen rather than through a long working chute. A catwalk on one side of the chute will allow the handler to load cattle easier. Larger feedlots usually have loading ramps separate from the working chute. Though most farm loading chutes are 30 to 35 in. (750 to 875 mm) wide, some feedlot operators prefer 54 to 72 in. (1350 to 1800 mm) wide. Farm loading chutes need a height adjustment to match the floor height of the vehicle being loaded.

Figure 11. Curved loading chute with a circular crowding pen


Loading chutes work best with telescoping wing gates and a self-aligning bumper (Figure 11). A self-aligning bumper helps prevent foot and leg injuries caused by an animal stepping through a gap between the chute and truck. Adjustable wing gates will prevent animals from escaping out the side gap between the chute and truck. A well-designed loading ramp has a level loading surface about 5 ft. (1.5 m) wide to walk on or off the truck. The slope of a permanently installed cattle ramp should not exceed 20 degrees. The slope of a portable or adjustable chute should not exceed 25 degrees.

Stair-stepped concrete ramps are recommended. Each step should have 3 1/2 to 4 in. (90 to 100 mm) rise and 12 in. (300 mm) tread width. Roughen the step surfaces to provide good footing. On adjustable and wood ramps, 1 x 2 in. (19 x 38mm) hardwood cleats should be spaced 8 in. (200 mm) apart.

Chutes for both loading and unloading cattle should have solid sides and a gradual curve. A curved, single file chute is most efficient for getting cattle to enter a truck. Chutes used for loading and unloading cattle should have a radius of 12 to 17 ft. (3.6 to 5.1 m). The larger radius is better.

In auction marts and meat packing plants where a chute is used to unload only, a straight chute 6 to 10ft. (1.8 to 3 m) wide should be used. This provides animals with a clear path to apparent freedom.


Different types of scales are useful in various types of cattle handling operations. They can be for weighing a single animal or a group of animals. A single animal scale is most useful in determining rate of gain and in selecting breeding stock or determining how much weight bred cows are gaining or losing.

Always plan for a scale when designing a handling system. That way it can be added later without causing interference. Scale location should be adjacent to the working chute. The scale can be offset from the main working chute so that all animals worked in the chute and squeeze do not have to walk over the scale.

The scale cage complete with floor, and front and rear gates should be isolated from the working chute. If either sides or front or rear gates are fixed and not weighed, an incorrect weight will be recorded if the animal leans on a side or gate. A cage insert or adjustable cage side can be used to keep a calf from turning around in the cage. Scales are often incorporated into the squeeze and the squeeze used to reduce animal movement which speeds up weighing.

Most larger feedlots require group animal scales. These scales are often read from inside a building.

There are three scale types to choose from: electronic, mechanical (balance beam) and hydraulic. PAMI Report 654 outlines the features of these scales and details test results on four different scales.

Additional Features

In addition to the basic pen-chute-squeeze unit, there are a number of additional features that can improve cattle handling facilities. These are:

  • additional sorting pens
  • loading chute separate from the working chute and corral, particularly desirable for larger feedlots
  • concrete paving of chute and crowding pen floors
  • electrical service and lighting at the chute
  • cutting gate located part way along the chute for releasing individual animals
  • covered squeeze and chute for all-weather operation
  • a tipping table for hoof trimming and other operations
  • a calf tipping table
  • water and feed in overnight holding pens
  • man passages at critical locations in corral fences, both for safety and convenience

Corral Arrangements

Minimum Working Corral

A minimum working corral (Figure 12) should have an access or collecting alley about 12 ft. (3.6m) wide to bring cattle from the barn, feedlot or pasture to the holding pen. There should be at least one holding pen sized to hold the herd and preferably a second pen for sorting. A crowding pen and gate are essential to force cattle into the working chute. An adjustable loading chute should be located for easy year-round access. As the operator's needs increase, this layout can be readily expanded by adding onto the working chute and adding more pens. Use solid sides for the crowding pen, working chute and loading chute.

Curved Chute Corral and Sorting Pens

A curved, tapered chute (Figure 13) has proven to be an effective method for moving cattle. It can handle all sizes of cattle from mature cows to 400 lb. (180 kg) calves. At the headgate exit it is possible to sort in four different directions.

A loading chute, squeeze, headgate, and scale are incorporated into this facility.

The loading chute can be located anywhere along the curved working chute. The plan shows two options for scale location.

Tight-Curved Working Chute

The tightly curved chute (Figure 14) has a 13 ft. (3.9 m) radius to the inside edge of the outside posts. The tight radius of this chute does not allow for tapering of the working chute sides. This plan is designed to fit where space is limited. Additional sorting pens can be placed along the lead-up alley or after the squeeze chute.

Semi-Circular Crowding Alley and Working Chute

The semi-circular crowding alley with working chute shown in Figure 15 is designed to handle a large number of cattle. Cattle can be run into the crowding alley and presorted back into diagonal pens adjacent to the lead-up alley. The semi-circular design saves steps for the handler since the squeeze is close to both the working chute and crowding tub.

Commercial Facilities 

Many companies offer complete portable cattle handling facilities manufactured out of steel. A producer may consider these if cattle handling facilities are required at more than one site or there is no time or desire to construct permanent facilities from wood. Capital cost of these units likely exceeds the capital cost of building with wood. Portable facilities will have a higher resale value than facilities embedded in earth.

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