Cattle Handling Facilities
By James B. Neel, Associate Professor, University of Tennessee


One of the keys to increasing returns from a commercial cow-calf operation is the time application of basic management practices. Many of these practices require that the cattle be either penned or restrained. Without adequate cattle handling facilities these practices are not done.

Most cow-calf producers are hesitant to invest the time and money to construct these necessary facilities. Accord to data published in the “Farm Planning Manual”, EC 622, Agriculture Extension Service University of Tennessee, cost for a corral, sorting pen, working chute and loading chute would run $2,250. Part of that cost would be for a squeeze chute that would retail for around $800. If a catch chute was constructed of wood and a commercial headgate was purchased, the cost could be reduced to around $1,700. This equipment would he expected to last for 20 years if it is properly maintained. If another $500 is added over the 20-year period for maintenance, the total cost would range between $2,200 to $2,750. This would amount to $110 to $137.50 per year. The cost per cow per year would depend on the herd size. If you had 55 cows the annual cost per cow would run from $3.14w $3.92. Modification of existing facilities could substantially reduce these costs.

When the costs of handling facilities are spread over a period of years the cost per cow is low compared to losses in returns.

Let’s take a look at what loss returns might occur to a commercial cow-calf operation that does not have handling facilities needed to get some of these jobs done.

Let’s assume that the producer has a 30-cow herd. From these 30 cows, he weaned and marketed 27 calves during the fall of 1981 market price for heifers averaged $55.00/cwt, steers averaged $65.00 per cwt and bulls averaged $60.00. Market weights averaged 440 pounds for heifers, 462 pounds for steers and 495 pounds for bulls. Annual cow cost averaged $213.

Let's assume that 13 of the calves were heifers and eight were steers and six were marketed as bulls. Four of the heifers, four of the steers and two of the bulls were marketed with horns. The producer did not implant any of the calves.

No pregnancy checking and culling was done so, the three cows that failed to wean a calf were maintained in the herd. With an average market weight of 460 pounds a market price of $60, annual cow cost of $213.00 one open cow would result in lost return from the calf that she would produce ($63) plus returns from 3.38 productive cows that would b needed to cover her annual costs. Under these conditions, one cow that failed to wean a calf would result in a $276 loss in returns.

The following equation could he used to calculate the lost returns:
             Lost Return Per Head X Number of Cattle = Total Loss Due to Not Applying Practice.

If the following management practices were not applied these losses could result:

  1. Not Castrating
    $9 X 6 = $54
  2. Not Dehorning Heifers:
    $6.60 X 4 = $26.40
    Not Dehorning Steers:
    $6.93 X 4 = $27.20
    Not Dehorning Bulls:
    $7.27 X 2 = $$14.50
  3. Not Implanting

    $12 X 14 = $168
    $24 X 14 = $336
  4. Not Pregnancy Checking and Culling Open Cows
    $276 X 3 = $828

In all your total loss in returns would be $1,118

The above list of practices is not meant to indicate that these are the only practices that are important to a cow-calf operation nor does it include all of the economically important practices that require cattle handling facilities. Other practices such as parasite control, performance testing, weaning, marketing and first aid practices are not included.

It is difficult to put a dollar value on these practices that would apply to all situations. However, under the above assumptions, these losses due to failure to apply these practices are realistic. It is evident that the average cow-calf producer underestimates the economic losses that result from failure to get these jobs done.

The real picture is this: if you cannot do these jobs, it is very difficult to make any money from a cow-calf operation.

Are cattle handling facilities too expensive? You determine the answer to that question