This can often be seen in the horse world when we look at those who cling to trainers such as Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, Pat Pirelli – and the list goes on.

Whitehurst billy
PAS / Makale Livestock LLC

Grandin system

We have the same patterns in the cattle industry as well. We have Temple Grandin, Bud Williams, Steve Cote, Curt Pate, Tom Noffsinger and a host of others, each having different methods, approaches and techniques.

These differences can be good when one way of doing things isn’t working; we can pull another method from our “tool bag.”

It is true: When it comes to livestock, details matter. They are sensitive to our habits, behaviors, attitude and energy. At times, however, we fail to look at the common thread among all of our “gurus.” That common thread is designing facilities and handling animals in the safest way possible for people and animals and that has the animal’s best interest and welfare at heart.

I was once at a Ray Hunt horsemanship clinic when he stated, “This may not work for you, but it works for me. Give it a try and take the parts of this clinic that you can use home and leave the rest in your tool bag for a later date if you need it.”


Each of us needs to take heed of anyone who can give us wisdom, education and ideas to improve our operations without becoming so fiercely tunnel-visioned we aren’t open to new ideas. In doing so, we eat the meat, spit out the bones and employ those tactics that work for us in our own given situations.

Bud box

Recently, there has been a bit of a debate over who has the better working facility designs, Temple Grandin or Bud Williams. At the core of each of the designs is a desire to handle cattle more safely and effectively in a way that works with the animals’ natural instincts.

When designing facilities, we need to keep more than just the philosophy of the designer in mind. Economics needs to be considered for one measure. We have all worked cattle in less-than-stellar facilities that we had no intention of ever updating simply due to money.

Usually, these are remote facilities that see a very low volume of cattle each year, and it simply doesn’t pay to replace them. We always have to keep in mind the cost/benefit to redesigning and remodeling facilities.

Good stockmanship and animal training can overcome most design flaws, but when the time comes to renovate or replace working facilities and we are debating on which philosophy of cattle handling to follow, there are some questions that we need to pose first.

What type of animals are placed in your facilities and what level of stockmanship is employed? Will these cattle be processed in the facility frequently for years to come or are they a one-time visitor?

Be honest with yourself when you ask these questions. Remember, if you lie to yourself, it will come back to haunt you every time you run a cow through the facility.

Harvest facilities and auction yards typically have no reason to devote time to training the animals as they are a one-time visitor at these locations. These locations also have a higher employee turnover with a wider range of skills and knowledge.

The facility design at these locations will typically be designed more for worker safety, livestock safety and timeliness of processing without having to devote extensive training to cattle or crew.

Feedlots, while processing cattle constantly, may not be processing the same cattle constantly. Ask any feeder and they will tell you they want to keep the cattle at the bunks rather than in the processing chute as each processing will have an effect on gain for a few days following.

The amount of time and training feedlots need to devote to training cattle to the facilities varies widely based on the focus of the feedlot, as does the amount of crew training.

Cow-calf operations typically have the greatest motivation to train cattle and crew and develop facilities that are “inviting” to cattle as these cattle will be on the ranch for several years and will see the facilities at least once a year, and in many cases, several times a year.

Cow-calf operations typically have the lowest turnover of employees of any segment of the industry and have a great motivation to train the crew as well. I would offer a thought when thinking about facility design on cow-calf operations.

While your daily crew may be well-trained, know how to utilize the facilities to work with the cattle well and also be excellent stockmen, what about your day help who comes on the days when you are processing a high volume of cattle?

Two events that come to mind are the days you are branding and pregnancy checking the cattle. Quite often, we have outside help on those days.

While it is always recommended to pick help that has good stockmanship skills, it takes time for a crew to get know how the other people interact with cattle and other stockmen.

On those days, the facilities that work for you and your regular crew may all of a sudden not work as well, as your outside help is not familiar with them or how the cattle react to them.

Some of the biggest issues I have had with outside help over the years is overcrowding the facilities, be it in our bud box or the crowd tub. When this happened, facility design didn’t matter, as nothing worked when overcrowded.

We even set up an either-or type of facility where we had the option of using a crowd tub or a bud box depending on the mindset of the crew we had for the day. Having both options proved to be greatly beneficial.

Regardless of the design you choose – or how you choose to mix and match ideologies for the best fit for your operation, skill level, mindset and available crews – there are some basic things to keep in mind. Safety of the crew and animals always comes first.

Slips, falls and overcrowding can cause unnecessary injuries to crew and cattle. Some simple practices we can employ to avoid these pitfalls are:

  1. Keep facilities on level ground. Avoid slopes greater than three-to-12. By doing so, we can minimize slips when the rains come and the pens turn to mud.
  2. Give cattle some traction. Wherever you have concrete, put good grooves in it or cover them with a no-slip grate or mats. (Old tire treads woven into mats make great traction.) If you work your cattle horseback, as is common in many parts of the country, your riders will appreciate this, too.
  3. Allow approximately 20 square feet per cow and 14 per calf. For those of us who aren’t mathematicians and have to make decisions on the spot, just don’t fill the pen more than half full.
  4. Remember to leave yourself room to work with cattle once inside the pen. Fences will often have the effect on cattle of increasing their flight zone, so when we pen them tight and then get in there with them, we can inadvertently put more pressure on them than we intended.
  5. Remember that sizes of alleys and empty space may need to be expanded if you work horseback. Many facility designs are made with the assumption that you will be on foot and utilize 10-foot-wide alleys. If you will be mounted, alleys and bud boxes will often need to be 2 to 4 feet wider depending on the situation.

For some additional reading and diagrams on which you can ruminate for your next corral design, check out the following links to get you thinking:

Bud Box
Grandin  end mark

Billy Whitehurst, PAS, is a University of Idaho beef extension educator and co-coordinator of the Idaho Beef Quality Assurance program.

TOP: Keep in mind that if you are a fan of the Grandin systems (diagram can be found with the link above)

BOTTOM:  Bud box design (link can be found above), the basics of stockmanship are the same. Illustrations provided by Bill Whitehurst.