The Udder Side of the Story
Working with large animals does get to be a chore. It can be very dangerous. I have been bit, kicked, pawed, butted, run over and even backed over. I have even had a horse kick me into the side of the barn. After that one I had bruises on my back set on sixteen inch centers from the studs. What I am getting at is that it is dangerous, but with proper facilities it doesn’t have to be as dangerous.
Now we have all seen what happens to those cheaper panels. They will last until an upset animal crashes into one of them and they get bent all up. Due to the steel used to make them they will only take one licking. Then you will have to put the heat to un-bend them and reinforce them with something else. The better panels are made out of high tensile steel, which you can take heat or just beat the bend back out of them. Yes, these panels are a lot more expensive. But in my opinion it is better to build something right the first time and not have to repair it all the time. Normally the repairs will end up costing you even more than the good panels.
Pipe and sucker rod is also a good way to go. But, this is getting really expensive also. Most people will just spot weld the sucker rod to the pipe. This is the wrong way to go. Normally, those spots welds will give way in the future and a sucker rod will end up in an animal running by. I recommend either notching the rod into the pipe or blowing holes through the pipe and putting the sucker rod through the pipe.
Wood will also work. But, if not covered it will rot and give way in a few years. It will have to be two by with 6-8 inch posts to with stand the pressure cattle put on working facilities.
Now, some the common mistakes we all make in building. First, you cannot have enough gates. I get tired of always climbing the fence just to get where I need to be. You also want your chute to open into a large holding pen or alley way back to the pens. This way if you miss one in the chute, you don’t have to chase her over 80 acres. And if built properly you can also load animals out for the market. Another thing is that we never build the pens tall enough to keep them from trying to jump. Load-outs should be seven feet tall and holding pens should six feet tall. Only five feet tall will let them jump almost over and hang a leg. Then you will have to get her out and maybe cut her out. You could also end up with a broken leg. I have definitely seen all of this.
The stoutest place of all of your pens should be the crowd alley going into the chute. This is where they will put the most stress on your system. Here we also make the mistake of making the alley to wide. Yes, the cow and bull needs at least 28-30 inches at their belly, but they only need 15 inches at their feet. This means that the crowd alley going into your chute should be built at a V. Smaller calves will only need 12 inches at their belly. For example, my chute goes from 6 inches on the bottom to 19 inches. And I can work 200 pound calves up to 3,000 pound bulls with out a problem.
Now, there are two rules of thumb that everyone needs to remember when building facilities. No matter how expensive they are, they are still cheaper than any bill at your local hospital. Those expensive panels I was talking about, I have seen them sell for more than they cost at a farm sale. So, they don’t really depreciate, they appreciate. Your banker will like that idea.
Dr. Tim O'Neill owns Country Veterinary Clinic in Farmington, Ark.