Cattle-Handling Tips

Good handling facilities are an integral part of performing the working procedures and health measures required in a preconditioning program.

It’s all in keeping with an old industry saying: “You can tell the quality of a cattle producer by watching the way the producer’s animals react to handling.”

Animals that are introduced gently to handling procedures may avoid becoming stressed when worked.1 That can translate into dollars, because stress reduces an animal’s ability to fight disease and gain weight.1,2 Stress also increases shrink and interrupts normal rumen function.1

Another often-overlooked advantage of reducing stress on livestock is that it makes them easier to work, thereby reducing stress on the handler.1

Livestock move and react more predictably when they are calm and feel secure. Large moving or flapping objects can also make animals more difficult to handle, as can excessive yelling or hollering while handling and herding cattle.1,2

Important note: Don’t use electric prods or plastic paddle sticks; a small flag on the end of a stick can perform the same job.

A curved working alley takes advantage of an animal’s natural instinct to turn away from potential danger or unpleasant sights and sounds.2 Also, because cattle naturally move forward readily when following each other, use see-through (rather than solid) blocking gates in a chute.2

In the end, good facilities and use of a little good old-fashioned “cow sense” (knowing how cattle see the world) will streamline any livestock-handling operation.

Guidelines for Success

  1. Cattle can be moved quietly by using their natural flight zone. To move them forward, move toward their rear past the shoulder – their point of balance. To stop or back them up in the chute, move forward past their point of balance – ahead of the shoulder.
  2. Handling facilities should have curved chutes and round crowding pens.
  3. Use wide, curved lanes leading up to crowding pens.
  4. Use three or more sorting pens in front of the squeeze chute.
  5. Never fill a crowding pen more than three-quarters full; cattle need room to move around.
  6. Cattle should easily go up in the chute. If not, it could be because the animals are seeing something that’s distracting them.
  7. Cover the sides of the squeeze chute, especially the back three-quarters, to limit the animal’s side vision.
  8. Ideally, producers should ban electric prods. Instead, utilize wave sticks with plastic streamers or a small flag on the end.
  9. Keep the processing area clean.
  10. Reduce stress on the animal. This reduces animal injuries and sickness, as well as potential for employee injuries. The end result is an increase in overall working efficiency.

©2018 Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. BOV-1641-ANTB0918

1 Auburn University College of Agriculture. Proper handling and facilities critical to good working relationship. Available at Accessed June 29, 2018.
2 Grandin T. Livestock handling guide: Management practices that reduce livestock bruise and injuries and improve handling efficiency. Available at Accessed June 29, 2018.