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Beef Cattle Handling Facilities

Well designed and structurally sound facilities are critical to safe cattle handling and cattle welfare.

Cattle Working Facilities, MP239

Cattle Working Facilities, MP239  covers topics from cattle handling to working facilities site selection and types of equipment.

Feeding lot

  • Surfaced lot with shelter = 20 sq ft/head in shelter and 30 sq ft/head in lot
  • Surfaced lot without shelter = 50 sq ft/head in lot
  • Non-surfaced lot = 150+ sq ft/head depending on soil type and drainage


  • 20-25 sq ft/head

Feeder space (assuming all animals eat at once)

  • 18-22 in/head for calves up to 600 lb
  • 22-26 in/head for growing and yearling cattle
  • 26-30 in/head for mature cattle

Sick pen

  • 40-50 sq ft/head

Holding area

  • 14 sq ft/head for calves up to 600 lb
  • 17 sq ft/head for growing and yearling cattle
  • 20 sq ft/head for mature cattle/cow-calf

Crowding pen

  • 6 sq ft/head for calves up to 600 lb
  • 10 sq ft/head for growing and yearling cattle
  • 12 sq ft/head for mature cattle/cow-calf

Working chute/alley - straight sided

  • 18" width for calves up to 600 lb
  • 22" width for growing and yearling cattle
  • 26" width for mature cattle

Working chute/alley - sloped sides

  • 15" @ bottom, 20" @ 4' for calves up to 600 lb
  • 15" @ bottom, 24" @ 4' for growing and yearling cattle
  • 16" @ bottom, 28" @ 4' for mature cattle

Fencing height

  • 60" for gentle cattle
  • 72" for flighty cattle

Alley width

  • accommodate 10' gates when working on foot


  • 12' wide and 20' minimum length when working on foot
  • 16' wide and 30' maximum length when working on horseback

Post depth

  • 36 to 48"

Loading chute

  • 15" for stock trailer
  • 48" for tractor-trailer

Catch pen

  • Large enough to hold entire group
  • Positioned where cattle can be driven from pasture or enticed with feed.  Pens with troughs should be large enough to avoid cattle jumping troughs when being driven from the main catch pen to sorting pens.  Catch pens and sorting pens may be integrated together.

Sorting pens

  • The number of sorting pens needed should be determined based on management groups.  At minimum mature cows should be sorted away from calves before placement in dense crowding alleys and chutes.

Funnels, sweep tubs, or "Budbox" AND working chute

  • One of the most critically designed component of the system is movement of cattle from pens to the squeeze chute or headgate.  This area is critical to easy cattle movement to avoid use or excessive use of prodding sticks.
  • The Budbox can require a little extra space but work well for open sided facilities with long working alleys.  Budbox dimension varies from 12' x 20' when working on foot to 16' x  30' when working on horseback.  The most important aspect of using a Budbox is to only load the box with the number of cattle the working alley can hold.  The Budbox doesn't work well with extremely docile cattle and can be dangerous when working flighty cattle on foot.
  • The sweep tub is easily incorporated into the end of sorting pen alleys.  These can be purchased from commercial manufacturers.  Higher skill levels are needed when constructing on farm to make sure the sweep gate maintains a narrow gap throughout closing.
  • Funnels are commonly observed with facilities constructed on farm.  The triangular shape of funnels when the gate is closed can cause problems with cattle crowding in corners when turning back.

Working alley/chute

  • The working alley can be one of the most frustrating places during cattle processing.  Most facilities aren't designed to accommodate mature cattle and cattle less than 600 lbs.  Larger operations should consider adjustable alleys to improve processing.  Some operations choose to have separate alleys for mature cattle and calves.


  • A Y-box is sometime placed within a working alley to divert cattle to load-out or catch pens.

Palpation cage

  • Palpation cages may be placed just behind the squeeze chute or integrated into a squeeze chute.  Palpation cages are beneficial for palpation pregnancy testing, artificial insemination, and embryo transfer work.

Scale cage

  • Scales may be placed under the squeeze chute or within the alley leading up to the squeeze chute. 

Backing stops

  • Several stop designs have been considered.  These are placed along long working alleys leading up to the headgate or squeeze chute and are hinged to allow cattle to proceed forward but not backward.

Headgate/Squeeze chute

  • Choosing a headgate or headgate-squeeze chute combination will depend on the size of operation and budget.  These come with a variety of features from budget manual to hydraulic.  Links below are available to research different chute options.  Chutes should be anchored to the ground or alley panels to reduce the risk of tipping over or moving forward and creating gaps between the chute and lane.
  • Choose headgates that either scissor open or are capable of fully retracting back when open to catch cattle.  Gates that cannot full retract back are prone cause problems when cattle are partially caught and become hip locked.
  • Additional features to consider  include blinders and brisket bars.

Calf chute/table

  • Small, tilting chutes are available and convenient when processing a large group of calves.  Tilting permits easy access for castration.  Smaller scale for calves also makes other processes easier to accomplish such as branding.  

Trailer load-out

  • Load-out may be directly out of a headgate or alley way.  Trailer height can make load-out from a chute or headgate difficult.
  • Load-out may be single file or group.  Tractor-trailer loading is single file.  Group loading is sometimes used for stock trailer loading.  Group loading is more dangerous than loading from a single-file alley.
  • Load-out dimensions are specified above for stock trailer height and tractor-trailer height.

Links are not all inclusive but represent equipment marketed in Arkansas

Links are not all inclusive but represent alley and chute scales observed on farms in Arkansas.  Group scales or certified scales may be required for some operations.