Design tools, tips and insights that will help prepare you for the corral and handling system design process.
Introduction to designing your cattle corrals
Every year, Hi-Hog receives hundreds of requests for design assistance. We bring our wealth of design experience to each of these corral plans to ensure our customers get the most value out of their new Hi-Hog facilities.
We know however that some of you would prefer to do some of the design work yourselves. To assist you, we’ve compiled a collection of questions, tools, tips and insights, to prepare you for the design process. This guide will help you clarify your unique corral needs, and help you develop a safer, more efficient, livestock corral system.
We’ve been helping ranchers improve their corrals and cattle handling facilities since 1974 and our experience tells us the best livestock handling solutions are one-of-a-kind design solutions prepared for the individual rancher. And why wouldn’t they be? After all, your experiences, preferences, site, and herd management requirements, are uniquely yours.
This article is the property of Hi-Hog Farm & Ranch Equipment Ltd., and is not to be copied, shared or distributed.
This article includes several tables that may not appear correctly on a smartphone or tablet. For best results this article should be viewed on a laptop or desktop computer.
This guide was created to help you develop a design for your corrals that reflects your unique requirements. The guide is divided into three sections.
Section One: Livestock Corrals; this section provides you with a number of tools, tips and resources for developing your livestock corrals. The following topics will be discussed:
- Corral components
- Sizing your corral pens
- Livestock sorting options
- Considerations for improved livestock flow
- Portable or permanent corrals; which is best for you?
- Circles and squares; the pros and cons of curved and square corral facilities
- Planning for the future; how your facilities can change over time.
Section Two: Clarify your facility needs. This section will help you define what makes your facility unique.
- How will your herd management program affect the design of your facilities?
- How will your experience and preferences affect the design of your facilities?
- How will your site affect the design of your facilities?
Section Three: Laying the ground work. This section will provide guidance to help you translate your facility requirements into a unique corral plan that meets your needs.
- Compile details on you, your site, and your herd.
- Prepare a sketch of your proposed corral site
- Contact Hi-Hog for FREE assistance with your design (optional)
Section One: Part One
Before you can design your corrals, you first need to determine the purpose of your corrals. What features do you require to safely and efficiently manage your livestock program?
Your corrals will likely include some of the following components:
- Collection pens (Holding pens / Gathering pens / Group pens)
- Pre-Sorting pens (Split pens)
- Post-Sorting pens (Post working pens)
- Sick pens
- Overnight pens (Feed and water pens)
- Load-out pens
- Crowding pens (Crowding tubs/ sweeps / Bud box)
- Gathering alley (Access alley)
- Pre-Sorting alley
- Post-Sorting alley
- Sorting Hub
- Loading facilities (Load-out / Load-in)
- Working chute (working alley)
- Squeeze Chute and palpation cage
Collection Pens are used to hold the animals that you plan to work through your handling system. If your stock will be held in this pen for an extended period of time, it should be situated so that feed and water can be easily provided. For those with large herds, you may want to have multiple collection pens or a collection pen that can be divided into smaller working groups.
Do you need a collection pen? If so, how many animals does the collection pen need to hold?
Those who wish to sort their livestock before handling will require a Pre-Sorting Alley and Pre-Sorting Pens. Pre-Sorting is normally done to make the handling/treatment process more efficient. Some examples of pre-sorting include:
- sorting calves from cows
- sorting livestock into groups of similar size and weight
- sorting into smaller processing groups
- sorting bulls from heifers
- sorting livestock into groups for transport
Do you require pre-sorting pens? What kind of pre-sorting do you need to do? How many animals do you require in each of the pre-sorting pens?
Those who wish to sort their livestock after handling will have a Post-Sorting Alley and Post-Sorting Pens. Post sorting is normally done to separate animals that will be sold, culled or re-located, from those animals that will be kept. Some examples of post-sorting include:
- Sorting out sick animals
- Sorting out old or dry heifers
- Sorting calves from cows
- Sorting stock into groups of animals of similar size and weight
- Sorting difficult animals out of the herd (sorting for temperament)
- Sorting out low gain animals
- Sorting out bulls
Those animals that have been sorted for sale, or to be loaded out, are sometimes held in an Overnight Pen with feed and water to ensure they are ready to be loaded out for transport at a later time.
Do you require post sorting pens? What kind of post sorting pens do you require? How many animals will be in each of these pens? How large (heavy) will the animals be that are held in these pens?
Once you have determined the type of pens you require you need to determine the pen sizes and the number of pens you will require.
Section One: Part Two
Sizing your pens
Now that you know what kind of pens you want in your working corral, you need to figure out how big these pens should be. The size of the pens you require depends on:
- the number of cattle you need to hold
- the size of the animals you will be holding
- the length of time you will be holding the animals
- the disposition, or temperament, of the animals being held.
These four variables may differ depending on the purpose of the pen. For example, will the pen be used to hold a small, mixed run of cows and calves for a brief period before handling, or will the pen hold mature bulls overnight? Once you know the purpose of the pen you can determine each of the variables. This will then help you determine how big your pens need to be. (Once you can define the variables for your operation you can use the tables in the next section of this guide to determine the pen sizes you require)
How many animals will you hold in the pen?
The first pen to consider will be your holding pen. For most operations this pen would be large enough to hold your entire herd, or the number of animals you intend to process during the day.
Depending on the size of this group, and your management needs, you may want to move or sort the animals from the holding pen into smaller pens. You may be sorting your cattle at this time, or simply breaking your herd into more manageable groups for processing.
After you have processed your animals you may want to sort them (again). If you are intending to transport any of your livestock, you may wish to sort them into pens that will hold the number of animals that will fit into a liner load of cattle (see table below)
What size livestock will be held in the pen?
You may need to hold a pen full of cow-calf pairs prior to processing, and then have a pen available after processing for the calves you wish to send to auction. Both of these pens will have different requirements for the number of square feet per animal based on the different sizes of animals that will be held in the pens.
How long will you be holding your livestock in the pen?
There are a number of reasons why you may need to hold your livestock for an extended duration. For example you may need to hold animals that you are intending to ship. If your animals are held for an extended period you should ensure your livestock have additional space and that you can easily access these pens to provide your animals with feed and water.
What is the disposition of the animals you will be holding?
Animals that are ornery, combative, or easily spooked may require more space than passive stock. There are no guides for evaluating how much space an animal should have based on their disposition or temperament, so you will have to use your own judgement here.
Tables and Guides
For your convenience we have compiled below a number of tables that will help you determine how much space you will need for each of the pens you require.
The following two tables show the minimum area you should allow for each animal based on their weight. Please note that animals held overnight require more space. If you are holding stock for an extended period of time, your stock should have easy access to feed and water.
Area allowance per animal for animals worked immediately.
|Under 600 lbs / 275 Kg||600 to 1200 lbs / 275 to 550 Kg||Over 1200 lbs / 550 Kg|
|14 ft²/Animal||17 ft²/Animal||20 ft²/Animal|
Area allowance per animal for animals held overnight (or extended time periods)
|UNDER 600 LBS / 275 KG||600 TO 1200 LBS / 275 TO 550 KG||OVER 1200 LBS / 550 KG|
|45 ft²/Animal||50 ft²/Animal||60 ft²/Animal
* This table was developed by the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University under the direction of Temple Grandin and was published by Alberta Agriculture (1994), Food and Rural Development in ‘Corrals for Handling Beef Cattle’. The table provides the recommended area-per-animal that you should allow based on the size of the animal and the length of time the animal will be held in the pen.
The following table shows the approximate pen size required to hold Cow-Calf pairs that will be worked immediately.
The pen sizes shown below are approximate and are based on allowing 20 ft²/cow-calf pair.
|15 Cow-Calf Pairs||30 Cow-Calf Pairs||40 Cow-Calf Pairs||50 Cow-Calf Pairs|
|300 ft²||600 ft²||800 ft²||1000 ft²|
|10' x 30'||10' x 60'||10' x 80'||10' x 100'|
|12' x 25'||12' x 50'||12' x 67'||12' x 83'|
|14' x 22'||14' x 43'||14' x 57'||14' x 72'|
|16' x 19'||16' x 38'||16' x 50'||16' x 63'|
|20' x 15'||20' x 30'||20' x 40'||20' x 50'|
|24' x 12'||24' x 25'||24' x 33'||24' x 42'|
|28' x 11'||28' x 22'||28' x 29'||28' x 36'|
|32' x 10'||32' x 19'||32' x 25'||32' x 32'|
* This table was developed by Hi-Hog and based on the research of the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University under the direction of Temple Grandin. The table provides the recommended pen sizes based on an allowance of 20 ft² per cow/calf pair.
Sizing pens for holding livestock that will be loaded for transport
If you are planning to ship your livestock then you may consider sizing your load-out pen to hold a full liner load of cattle.
NOTE: Cattle are shipped primarily in a 48' or 53' cattle liner.
NOTE: Feeder cattle are loaded differently than fat cattle.
The images below show the load capacities for each section of a cattle liner.
The table below shows the number of cattle that can be held in each section of the cattle liner based on the weight of the animals.
For example, a 4000 lb liner section can hold 10 animals weighing 400 lb each, or 2 animals weighing 1400 lb each. The information in this table is summarized in the two tables that follow.
|Compartment Weight Capacity||Average Weight of Cattle (lbs.)|
**The cattle liner capacity images and table above come from the National Beef Quality Assurance Guide for Cattle Transportation; Master Cattle Transporter Guide created by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Please note that shipping numbers may vary from those shown.
The following two tables combine the information above to provide the total number of head based on average weight that can be hauled on both a 48’ and 53’ cattle liner. This information is then combined with the previous information on the area allowance per animal to determine the required pen size to hold a full cattle liner load of animals. Please note that the shipping numbers may vary from those shown. These tables were prepared by Hi-Hog and are for guidance only.
48’ Cattle Liner
|Weight of Livestock (lbs.)|
|Feeder Cattle Liner||Fat Cattle Liner|
|Cattle Weight (lbs.)||400||500||600||700||800||900||1000||1100||1200||1300||1400||1500|
|Number of Cattle (head)||122||99||81||69||62||54||50||44||40||37||34||32|
|Worked Immediately Pen Size (ft²)||1708||1386||1134||1173||1054||918||850||748||680||740||680||640|
|Held Overnight Pen Size (ft²)||5490||4455||3645||3450||3100||2700||2500||2200||2000||2220||2040||1920|
53’ Cattle Liner
|WEIGHT OF LIVESTOCK (LBS.)|
|FEEDER CATTLE LINER||FAT CATTLE LINER|
|Cattle Weight (lbs.)||400||500||600||700||800||900||1000||1100||1200||1300||1400||1500|
|Number of Cattle (head)||133||108||87||77||68||60||55||49||44||41||38||36|
|Worked Immediately Pen Size (ft²)||1862||1512||1218||1309||1020||1020||935||833||748||820||760||720|
|Held Overnight Pen Size (ft²)||5985||4860||3915||3850||3400||3000||2750||2450||2200||2460||2280||2160|
If, for example, you plan to ship 500 lb feeder cattle you can ship up to 108 head on a 53’ cattle liner. To hold this number in a short term corral pen you will need approximately 1,512 square feet of penning. If you need to hold these animals overnight you will need approximately 4,860 square feet of penning.
You now have the tools to calculate how much space you need for your corral penning. This is the first step in designing a set of corrals that meets your needs. If you are considering increasing the size of your herd, we recommend that you design your current corrals with your future corral needs in mind. This will ensure you can add on to your facilities in the future with a minimum of additional costs.
Please note that while this section will help you understand how much space you need to manage your herd it does not tell you how to arrange the pens that you require. Skillful arrangement of the corral pens will consider the unique features of your site, the handling processes you require, as well as your individual preferences, all while adapting the design to ensure your livestock can be processed safely, efficiently, and with a minimum of stress.
Section One: Part Three
Cattle sorting is a common task on most ranches. There are many ways to perform this task; some methods however are significantly safer and more efficient. The most common methods are to sort your cattle in a sorting alley. Alternatively, you can also use a sorting hub with a sorting alley. To learn more about either of these methods follow the links below:
Section One: Part Four
Considerations for improved livestock flow; seven steps to safe, low stress, efficient cattle handling
- Design your facilities around where your livestock want to go. It is always less work for you, and less stress for your animals, if you don’t have to push your livestock. One of the behaviors that we want to take advantage of is that cattle, when they feel trapped, will want to return to where they felt more comfortable. In designing a corral we like to include a large holding pen where your stock can be trained to come for food, water and treats. This pen would be connected to the pasture by an 8’ to 10’ wide alley. When the cattle leave the holding pen they will want to return to the pasture. This will make it easier to divert the cattle out of this alley into your handling system. If the handling system then empties into the pasture then your cattle will willingly travel through the handling system to reach the pasture (see step 4 below)
- After you have planned your facilities around your cattle, think about how you (and your helpers) will get around your facilities. Draw over your handling system plan, the paths that you and your handlers will need to travel to work your cattle efficiently. If your paths cross lines of panels, make sure to install a gate, or panel-with-gate at those locations. Having access where you need it can have a huge impact on both your efficiency, and how tired you feel at the end of the day. (the next two steps require that you install your equipment well in advance of when you plan to handle your livestock)
- Before you install your system, make sure you and your cattle will have excellent footing. Poor footing will not only slow your livestock down and stress your livestock, but it also makes for more opportunities for injury. Poor footing could be defined by any condition that deters an animal from moving forward. Mud, ice, and slick surfaces are all examples of poor footing. If these conditions exist on your site, consider installing grooved concrete or Paddock Slabs in key locations. Also falling into footing concerns would be alleys that go downhill or face directly into the sun, as both of these will stress your livestock and slow them down. Now that your footing issues are addressed, you are ready to install your facilities.
- Build it and they will come. Livestock are curious, so after you have installed your new corrals or handling equipment, give your livestock an opportunity to investigate the equipment on their own. Make sure the doors and gates are tied off so your livestock won’t be accidentally trapped, and ensure that your cattle can investigate the new equipment without risk or threat. Do not force your livestock to interact with the new equipment as this will only cause them to associate your corrals with stress.
- Once your cattle have had an opportunity to investigate the new equipment, and are not threatened by it, you can teach them the route in and out of the corrals. Put some treats in your new holding pen and open up the gate to the pasture. It won’t be long before your cattle associate an open pasture gate with treats in the holding pen. When the treats are gone they will want to return to the pasture. Close off the alley they came in through and redirect the cattle through an open gate into your handling system. Make sure that all the gates and doors are open and secured. You may wish to use a few treats to help encourage your cattle into the system the first time. Don’t push your animals! They will find, and learn, that the way back to the pasture travels through the handling system. Your livestock’s safe, un-pressured exposure to your equipment will minimize their stress levels when they are actually processed.
- Your equipment is ready and your cattle are ready, but are you ready? Make sure you have a clear plan for how you are going to work your cattle. If you are bringing in outside help you should take time to familiarize your helpers with your system. Explain to them how you plan to work your livestock and what their individual roles will be. If possible your cattle should be comfortable with your helpers from positive exposure prior to handling. Additionally, your helpers should all be familiar with how to handle livestock with low stress cattle handling techniques. Your goal is to ensure your livestock can move through your system as quickly and as calmly as possible. A coordinated process will ensure your livestock move fluidly through your facilities which is far less stressful than stopping and starting your livestock.
- Lastly, before you handle your cattle, carefully inspect the alleys and handling system from your animal’s point-of-view to ensure your equipment will be safe, and secure. Use all your senses, including common sense, to remove foreign objects, sounds and smells that your livestock might perceive as a threat. Anything foreign, such as an empty coffee cup, rattling chain, cologne drenched jacket, etc., can cause your livestock to balk.
Now you’re ready to enjoy the benefits of safe, efficient, productive cattle handling.
Section One: Part Five
Portable or Permanent Corrals
One of the first decisions you need to make before you design your new corrals is how you intend to install them. There are pro’s and con’s for both portable and permanent installations.
Portable set-ups will utilize frames with gates, or U-frames with gates, rather than gates hung on posts anchored in the ground. Portable installations often cost a little more for the equipment (as you are paying for the additional gate support frame) however, the stationary set-up usually takes a little longer to install and requires additional installation costs. Portable set-ups also provide flexibility to easily change, or move, your livestock corrals.
Permanent set-ups utilize posts set in the ground to support the panels and gates in your cattle corrals. While you can use frames with gates or U-frames in a permanent facility, you are more likely to use bolt on gates or weld-on gates. Permanent installations are usually very stable, and quieter, when compared with portable set-ups. They are, however, less adaptable to change.
If at a later date you decide to move locations you will do better with a portable set-up, as it can easily be relocated and/or re-configured. Or, if you are retiring from the business, portable set-ups are also easier to sell. If you have permanent facilities and you are selling your property, you may find that your livestock facilities don’t add much value to your land (unless the purchaser of your property sees your facilities as an asset).
Note: from experience we have found that used Hi-Hog equipment often sells for more than it's original purchase price.
Section One: Part Six
Circles or squares
Corrals can come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The basic design is usually either curved (circular), rectangular (square) or some combination of the two. Sample plans developed by noted animal behaviorist Temple Grandin often have curved alleys. This is because she has found in her research that livestock can be moved more efficiently in a curved alley. These systems, however, do have their drawbacks. Compared to rectilinear (square) corrals, the curved designs tend to be much more challenging to set up; particularly with standardized equipment. Secondly they are more challenging to modify or expand. If you plan to expand your facilities in the future and you would prefer a curved design, you should take time to design with your future system in mind.
Section One: Part Seven
Plan for your future
When you sit down to design your facilities you may benefit from considering what your operation will look like in the future. For example, you may need to build your corrals over time, as funds become available, or as your herd grows. By designing for the future state, you can ensure that the system you install today can be easily modified for your future needs. While this usually refers to a growing operation it may also reflect a plan to reduce the size of your operation and sell off some of your components without losing functionality.
Section Two, Part One
Now that you are more familiar with some of the design considerations you are ready to look closer at what it is you want your corral and handling system to accomplish.
To assist you in clarifying your goals we have prepared a number of questions below. Take time to describe, in detail, what you imagine your processing will look like when your facilities are completed.
- How many animals will you be running on any given day?
- Will you need to split your large group into smaller groups before processing?
- When will you be handling your animals? (Time of year, Time of day) Will this affect your location or need for shelter?
- What size animals will you be processing? Will your working alley need to be adjustable for various animal sizes?
- Will you need to pre-sort your animals?
- What capacity do you need your pre-sorting pens to hold? What sizes of animals will be in each pen?
- Will you need to sort your animals after they exit the squeeze chute?
- What capacity do you need your post handling pens to hold?
- Do you require a scale? Single or group animal weighing? Where do you want the scale/loadbars?
- Will you be loading out animals? If so, how many animals and what size animals? Are you restricted to where you can load out?
- Will you require a calf table or any other special equipment?
- Will you have helpers when you work your animals? How many?
Section Two, Part Two
Experiences and Preferences
Your experiences are unique to you. These experiences can greatly affect the kind of handling system or cattle corrals that will make you happy. Here are some questions to help you identify your unique experience and preferences:
- Are you an experienced rancher? Experienced ranchers should know how to calmly and safely move their livestock in a wide array of situations.
- What type of cattle systems have you used before and what did you like or dislike about those systems?
- Will you do any of your livestock handling from horseback? If so, you may want to include horseback lever latches on your gates. Horses can also safely handle livestock in wider alleys than a rancher on foot.
- Do you have any experience with Hi-Hog handling equipment?
- Are there any designs, Hi-Hog or other, that you like or dislike, and why?
- Are there any system features you must have?
- The better you can describe your dream cattle handling system the better our designers will be able to make your dreams come true. It is important to describe both what you don’t want as much as what it is that you do want.
Section Two, Part Three
Are there any site conditions that may influence the design, installation or effectiveness of your corral or handling system?
Conditions may include, but are not limited to:
- Where will your livestock enter your corral site?
- Where can trucks or cattle liners access your site? (To locate loading facilities)
- Are there any fixed structures on the site that cannot be moved such as buildings, power poles, wells or fence lines.
- Do you want your squeeze chute located in any specific location/orientation? Do you need to be close to a power source? If so, where is the power source?
- Will your terrain have an impact on how your facilities are installed? Low spots, hills, slopes, rivers, trees, rock outcrops, etc.
- Where will the livestock handlers access the site so that we can ensure man gates are located appropriately?
- Are there any hidden conditions that you need to worry about such as strong winds, neighbors that you would like to keep clear of, etc.?
Section Three, Part One
Preparing your sketch
If you’re planning to work with one of Hi-Hog’s designers please provide a simple sketch of the area where you are hoping to locate your corral or handling system. Your sketch does not need to be accurate or scaled. The sketch should however include the location of any feature that may influence the design proposal, (see Section Two, Part Three above). If possible please put a North arrow on your drawing and indicate the location of any key features with dimensions. (The North arrow makes it easier for the designer to communicate and collaborate with you)
If your corral/handling system needs to go inside a building please provide a sketch that includes the inside dimensions of the building. Please show, or describe, any building features that may be important to the project.
Here are some example things to consider;
- Are there any supporting columns that may interfere with the placement of equipment?
- Do the walls or ceiling of your building slope? Will they affect the height or location of the equipment?
- Where are the wall openings that may impact the design? (Man doors, overhead doors, windows)
- Are there any areas of the building that may need to be kept clear for other uses? (eg. tractor storage)
- Are there electrical panels or any other features that you need to keep clear of, or maintain access too?
- Does the floor have a slope that may present an issue?
As with the other sample sketch, please include a North arrow and indicate any key elements of your proposed system such as where your cattle will be coming from, and where you would like your squeeze chute located.
Section Three, Part Two
Compile details on you, your herd, and your management goals.
When you contact Hi-Hog let us know who you are:
- Your name
- Your corral location
- The best phone number to reach you at (and day/time if applicable)
- Your Email address (we usually send drawings by email)
- Preferred Hi-Hog re-seller (if applicable)
- When are you hoping to install your new facilities?
- How many head of livestock do you have?
- What type of penning do you require?
- Describe any system features you require. (Scales, Load-out chute, calf table, etc.)
- Are you planning to expand/contract your future livestock operations?
Section Three, Part Three
After you have read through the first two sections you will be ready to begin designing your own facilities. If you would like additional help with the design process just give Hi-Hog a call at 1-800-661-7002. Our designers are ready to help develop your ideas into a corral and handling system that meets your unique requirements. And when you are completely happy with the design, we will provide you with scaled and itemized AutoCAD drawings of your facility. And best of all, this is a complimentary service.
If you would like help visualizing what your corrals may look like, simply call our office or fill out and email a Request For Design Assistance and one of our experienced designers will prepare a complimentary design based on your unique cattle handling needs. Email to email@example.com or fax to 1-403-280-2441. While not required, the design assistance form will provide our designers with all the information they need to get a clear vision of what you are looking for.
Sample Livestock Corrals & Cattle Handling Systems
If you would like to explore a variety of sample corral and handling system layouts please visit the sample livestock corrals or sample cattle handling systems on this website.
If you would like to learn more about how to create safe and efficient corrals you may consider visiting a local community pasture or livestock auction market. These facilities often have a wide range of well-designed corral features (You can also learn from observing what doesn't work; where animals are hesitating or becoming stressed). Auction markets, for example, often have a wide range of pen sizes and alley sorting systems to help them efficiently unload stock, sort stock, inspect stock, weigh stock, bring the stock into the sale barn for auction, re-pen the stock for individual purchasers, hold the stock overnight in feed accessible pens, and load-out the stock into a range of trucks and cattle liners.
More cattle handling resources:
- How to work cattle with a Bud Box
- How to sort cattle in a livestock sorting alley
- How to sort cattle with a sorting hub
- How to effectively work your cattle's flight zone
- Cattle handling systems and livestock corral design service
- Sample cattle handling system designs
- Sample cattle corral plans
Questions? Ask Hi-Hog's Experts