The Ultimate Guide to Designing Safer Cattle Handling Systems

The Ultimate Guide to Designing Safer Cattle Handling Systems

Safety is the foremost concern when it comes to designing cattle handling systems, prioritising the well-being of both handlers and livestock. If you’re experiencing apprehension and frustration during the cattle handling process within your current system, it may be an opportune moment to contemplate a new design or an upgrade. Even the implementation of a few thoughtful changes has the potential to revolutionise your cattle handling experience, transforming it from an arduous task to a finely tuned, smoothly operating machine.

Designing a cattle handling system requires the consideration of multiple factors. If your existing system is outdated, inefficient, or fails to align with the natural behaviour of cattle, it can lead to unnecessary challenges and complications. However, the good news is that even minor modifications or a comprehensive system overhaul can yield remarkable results. By incorporating thoughtful design changes, you can alleviate common pain points, create a safer environment, and enhance the overall productivity of your cattle handling operations.

The cornerstone of designing a successful cattle handling system lies in selecting the appropriate location. Accessibility, proximity to existing structures, drainage considerations, fencing requirements, and electricity availability are vital factors that should be carefully evaluated. A comprehensive approach ensures that your cattle handling system maximises safety, minimises stress, and fosters optimal cattle flow, all while working harmoniously with the natural instincts of the animals.

Getting Started: Designing Your System

The first step in creating a safer cattle handling system is selecting the right site. The location of your system greatly impacts its functionality, cattle flow, and future adaptability. Accessibility, proximity to the barn or pasture, and considerations like drainage, fencing, and electricity availability should be taken into account. It’s also essential to assess existing structures, trees, and water sources before finalising the location.

Most cattle handling systems consist of six key components:

  • High-quality cattle panels and gates
  • Access alleyway
  • Box or tub
  • Working alley
  • Chute
  • Loading or exit area


When designing your system, think about your current needs as well as the potential growth of your operation. It’s often more cost-effective to design a larger cattle-handling system now, rather than renovating an outdated system later or risking injuries due to overcrowding. Additionally, keep in mind that cattle can easily evade handlers in large holding pens, so incorporating gates and removable panels into your design allows for easy adjustments as your operation evolves. Aim for approximately 20 square feet per cow and 14 square feet per calf in your holding pen design.

Design Recommendations From SSCT 

  • Define an escape route: Ensuring the safety of handlers is paramount in designing a cattle handling system. It is crucial to provide clear escape routes throughout the system, allowing handlers to exit easily in case of emergencies. Choose panels and gates that include man gates, allowing for quick and safe evacuation without compromising the containment of cattle.
  • Select safe equipment: The choice of panels and gates is critical to minimise challenges and maximise visibility for cattle. Choose wide rectangular designs that are highly visible to the animals, reducing stress and potential accidents. Additionally, incorporate emergency exit options in alleys and chutes, providing quick escape routes for animals in crisis situations.
  • Create a cattle-free area: Designate a separate space within the handling system where handlers can gather safely, away from the presence of cattle. This area not only protects delicate equipment but also reduces the risk of injuries by creating a safe zone for handlers to regroup and plan their actions.
  • Straighten the alley: Promoting smooth cattle and stock flow is essential for an efficient handling system. Maintain a straight section at the entrance and exit of the tub or box, with a minimum length of two full mature animals or 12 feet. This design element helps guide the cattle and ensures a more streamlined movement throughout the system.
  • Consider herd size: The size of the herd being handled directly impacts the dimensions of the tub or box and the length of the alley. Strive to strike a balance that allows for a steady flow of cattle into the chute system without overcrowding, as overcrowding can lead to injuries and increased stress levels. Our Calf Super Safe “T”™ Force is an essential for the safe and efficient flow of cattle into your race or loading facility.
  • Mind the alley width: The width of the alley plays a crucial role in facilitating cattle movement. It should be wide enough for the animals to move comfortably forward but not wide enough for them to turn around. Adjustable alley sides are recommended to accommodate varying herd sizes and promote seamless cattle flow.
  • Pay attention to traction: Providing surfaces with good traction is essential to minimise slips and falls during cattle handling. Consider options such as rubber flooring, stamped steel flooring, packed dirt, or gravel, which offer improved traction. Avoid using cement or paved surfaces that can become slippery when wet.
  • Utilise slopes and light: Leverage cattle preferences by incorporating slopes and strategic lighting into the design. Cattle generally prefer moving uphill, in curves, and toward light. Ensuring that crowd pens are level prevents potential foot traps and allows for a more natural flow of cattle.
  • Use sight lines: Take advantage of cattle’s natural inclination to move towards an exit by using solid and slatted walls strategically. Guide the animals through the handling system by employing these wall types strategically. A curve with a solid side can halt their progress, while an open side encourages forward movement.
  • Install an access gate: Enhance handler access and safety by incorporating an access gate at the front or back of the squeeze chute. This eliminates the need for handlers to climb over fences, reducing the risk of accidents and creating a safer system overall.
  • Handle electricity with care: If your cattle handling system requires electricity, prioritise safety for both cattle and handlers. Implement ground fault circuits and moisture-proof outlets to minimise the risk of electrical hazards. Ensuring proper electrical installations and maintenance is crucial to prevent accidents and injuries.
  • Consider cattle behaviour: Understanding the natural behaviour of cattle and how they react to handlers can significantly influence the design of your system. Incorporate equipment and design elements that align with low-stress handling principles, allowing for better management of cattle flow and minimising stress levels during handling.
  • Choose the right cattle chute and head gate: The selection of a suitable chute and head gate is vital to ensuring low-stress handling techniques and efficient procedures. Look for squeeze chutes that securely hold the animal in place, providing safe access to the areas that need attention. These chutes should seamlessly integrate into your cattle handling system, promoting low-stress handling techniques and ensuring quick and efficient procedures.


Designing safer cattle handling systems requires careful consideration of various factors such as site selection, equipment choice, cattle behaviour, and herd size. By implementing the design recommendations, including defining escape routes, selecting safe equipment, creating cattle-free areas, and optimising alleyways, traction, slopes, and lighting, handlers can significantly improve the safety and efficiency of their cattle handling operations. Additionally, paying attention to electrical safety, utilising sight lines, and choosing the right chute and head gate further enhance the overall effectiveness of the system.

With these design principles in mind, handlers can create a safer environment for both themselves and the livestock, promoting low-stress handling and ultimately improving the well-being and productivity of their cattle.

By prioritising safety and taking a thoughtful approach to design, handlers can transform their cattle handling systems into efficient and secure operations. Investing in the appropriate infrastructure, incorporating animal behaviour understanding, and utilising modern equipment contribute to a safer and more productive environment. Remember that even small changes can have a significant impact, so it is worth evaluating and upgrading your cattle handling system to ensure the well-being of both handlers and livestock.

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