A well designed cattle yard makes it easier and safer to work with livestock. It should be well drained to prevent health problems for animals and workers.
Cattle have a 300 degree field of view, so yards with circular pens and races allow stock to flow more easily. A curved forcing gate eliminates the need to climb into the yard which reduces safety risks.
Cattle yards need to be well designed, based on an understanding of animal behaviour. Well-designed yards make it easier and safer to work cattle, reduce handling time and increase productivity. Poorly designed yards can make the job more difficult and lead to injury for livestock and people.
Good drainage is important, particularly in the race, forcing area and loading ramp areas. Vehicle access ways need to have a 100-150mm layer of coarse metal laid over a raised, well-drained base.
Ideally, cattle yards should be built on a gravel rise if possible and shade trees planted to help working in summer. Yards should be separated from living areas to minimise noise, flies and dust, and make it easier to restrain cattle when marking, vaccination or for veterinary treatment. Gates around yards should be heavier-duty than normal farm gates and preferably positive bolt types. Fences are best made from bush timber and steel, with mesh and wire rope used where horned stock are to be handled.
A well-designed cattle yard can be a low-cost alternative to conventional barn facilities. However, the location of a cattle yard must be chosen carefully to ensure that it is safe for people and livestock. It should be built over stable ground, and not on slopes that may erode or flood. It should also be located close to a water source and accessible for the herd.
A properly designed cattle yard should be fenced, with walkways between pen areas to allow for human intervention and animal health inspections. Fences should be strong and well-maintained to prevent escape, injury or death. A working table is a handy addition, and will reduce the need for people to bend down while catching and holding animals.
Highland cattle need more space in yards than other breeds, both to enable them to make the best use of their natural instinct to enforce hierarchy and to minimise stress. It is advisable to provide around 3-4 times more space than non-horned cattle, or 6-8 square metres per adult Highland.
A good set of cattle yards makes handling stock easy and a lot less stressful, especially if they are quiet and secure. This positively influences livestock handling and herd health programs as the handler can get more work done in a shorter time with calmer animals.
Grow yards, which work with calves before they go to feed yards, are now a more common part of the US cattle industry. Senior animal protein analyst Don Close says they can ease feed yard competition at certain times of the year and also free up pasture space, allowing cow/calf producers to expand their operations.
To ensure your yards are efficient, a textured concrete floor in your forcing pen and race is a good investment. It stops the main traffic areas from becoming muddy and reduces trip hazards for staff and cattle. It’s a good idea to have a slope on the race, as cattle flow best when going uphill.
Children are at a high risk around livestock and should only be allowed in yards or paddocks with other competent adults. Cattle that are used to being worked by people on horseback may become fearful if handled by handlers on the ground and will attempt to escape through gates or gaps.
Make sure all fences and catwalks are strong, well maintained and free of protruding bolts and rails. Keep yards clear of rubbish, rocks and excessive mud that can cause tripping or slipping injuries for people and animals.
Cattle are herd animals that do not like to be isolated. They are easier to move through yards when they can see the herd in front of them. Use lighting that minimises shadows and bright spots as cattle can be easily startled by them. Wear steel-capped boots and long sleeves when working with cattle to prevent broken or bruised toes and to protect you if you are rubbed against the rails or kicked. Run vaccination and parasite control programmes to reduce the risk of disease that can be passed from cattle to people (see ‘Zoonoses’).