Corrals and Beef Cattle

       Any successful beef operation involves handling cattle at various times. Ranchers must become adept at moving the cattle, separating cows from calves at weaning, during worming or other treatments, branding, weighing, performance testing, pregnancy examination, not to mention loading and unloading for sale.

All this movement would be chaos if not for the corral systems that have been developed over the years to facilitate ease of movement and management of the herd. If done correctly, a good corral system can increase the overall efficiency of your operation, which will ultimately save you time and money.

Good and well-managed corral systems also limit herd movement, which decreases stress on the animals and will keep overall herd health higher.

Location, Location, Location

Ideally, the corral should be located on sandy soil in an area with some shade, usually from nearby trees. It also is ideally located near the pasture area, so movement is limited from pasture to corral. Electricity, water and holding pens should also be nearby,

Corrals require a working "chute" and a "squeeze." You can build a loading chute to accommodate the type of truck and trailer that you use most often to transfer the cattle. There are several commercial types and plans available as well, many at affordable prices that will get your operation up and running in a shorter time period.

You’ll need at least two holding pens: one for holding the cattle before they are worked and the other for the cattle after. These pens need to hold all the cattle from one pasture. These pens should be designed for ease of movement of cattle into the holding area.

A holding/crowding area should be roughly 20 feet, if possible, and a funnel shaped chute should be used to promote somewhat orderly movement into the holding area.

Most ranchers plan their gates in the corners and configure them to close in the direction the cattle are moving. Fences within the corral should be roughly five feet high, but outside fences and fences where cattle will be crowded should more than six.

Make sure the chute can hold five or six cattle at a time but do not make it too wide, as cattle will turn around and block the flow of traffic, requiring more management to get them facing the right direction.

You can build the squeeze chute from plans or buy a commercially-built one. This all depends on herd size, and, if you have a small number of cattle, then your corral system should be designed accordingly. Ranchers with larger herds should consider the commercial options available. The cost of these is relatively minimal compared to the headaches it can save and the efficiency of a properly designed corral system.

Your local extension agency or university can be a great source of information when designing your corral system. Several different plans are available for different cattle and different herd sizes and land topography.

Whatever your herd size, however, a well established and maintained corral system will prove a wise investment when the time comes to manage the herd. Without an efficiently designed corral system in place, getting your herd to move—and getting them to market—can be a daunting task.

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