A little basic planning can go a long way

All sorts of issues can crop up when handling cattle, but preparation makes the day go a lot smoother

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When it comes to working cattle there’s more to just ‘running them through the chute.’

Being prepared for the day can also make things go smoother for both the operators and the cattle.

Focusing on “just the basic repairs and maintenance” can make all the difference, said Peggy Johnson, a former rancher and 2W Livestock Equipment dealer from Fairview.

While it may seem obvious, keeping the handling facility properly maintained makes working cattle through it easier.

Johnson’s checklist starts with “greasing everything and making sure all the slider doors are working (and) checking for frayed ropes.”

In addition to the slider doors, make sure all the latches and moving parts on your chute are working properly. This way if you get an animal that is smaller or larger than average, it’s easy to adjust the chute accordingly.

“And make sure the manure is cleared out,” added Johnson.

Manure can literally plug up the system and also freeze in place in the wintertime and cause mechanisms on the chute and in alleyways to not function properly. Too much manure can also cause alleyways and squeeze chute bases to be slippery.

Before working cattle, Johnson always walked through her corral system.

“We just walk through and make sure all the gates leading up to the crowding tub and alleyway are cleared and working.”

This also helps you see what the cattle see. New animals in your herd or ones that haven’t been through a handling system may stop moving if they spot a jacket flapping on a gate adjacent to the chute or a rope that is dangling in the alleyway. Also check on gates that are supposed to be latched to keep cattle out of an area.

Both the weather and time of day can impact on how well the cattle move through both the handling system and corral area.

“In summer, you want to handle them early,” said Johnson, as avoiding the heat of the day keeps from stressing out the animals.

In the winter, the afternoon presents a different problem.

“If it’s a bright, sunny day, the shadows are definitely going to affect (the animals).”

This can cause cattle to not want to move down alleyways smoothly or enter the squeeze chute.

Many ranchers, including Johnson, plan days or weeks ahead based on when they can get extra help. Of course, Mother Nature may not be co-operative, so having a backup or alternate day is a good idea. This is also helpful if cattle require topical treatments, such as a pour-on, as many brands advise not using them if rain is expected within a specific time frame.

If you get outside help, people management is something else that needs to be taken into consideration.

“If you do have somebody else there, then No. 1, you need to know if they know anything about cattle,” said Johnson, who gave an example from her ranch.

One of the people she hired knew how to run a squeeze chute.

“I still think back to that day. Everything went so quick because he knew exactly what to do and how to handle cattle.”

However, on that same day, she had some help who wasn’t so savvy around cattle.

“We had to really, really watch him because we were afraid he was going to get kicked, or ran over. He didn’t have a clue!”

Even if your outside help is familiar with cattle and handling equipment, each brand is designed differently. It’s a good idea to go over how everything works, she said. For example, showing the chute operator how all the moving parts on your chute work.

Once everyone arrives to help work the cattle, make sure everyone knows their specific job and match the right person to the right job, said Johnson, who gave the example of filling syringes.

“If you don’t know how to do it, the wrong person could lose a lot of vaccine out on the ground.”

Also take into consideration the temperament of cattle in your herd and how they act around outsiders. Some cattle may not mind having strangers around while others might see them as a threat.

Having a game plan before the work begins will make the day go a lot smoother, she said, and so will paying attention to what’s happening once the day begins.

The key is “just simply being aware,” she said.

About the author


Jill Burkhardt

Jill Burkhardt, her husband, Kelly, and their two children, own and operate a mixed farm near Gwynne, Alberta. Originally hailing from Montana, she has a degree in Range Management from Montana State University. Jill’s agricultural passions are cattle and range management but she enjoys writing and learning more about all aspects of farming.



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