Cattle Psychology
Animal Handling Facilities Booklet
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Prepared By: 
Warren D. Goetsch; Area Extension Engineer and Dave Seibert; Area Livestock Advisor


There are several factors to consider when planning a cattle handling facility. One of the most important and most overlooked is the psychology of the animal. We need to examine the way cattle perceive the world. We need to consider what frightens then and why.

SIGHT: Cattle have basically black and white vision. They have little ability to perceive depth and thus have a difficult time judging distances. They do, however, have an almost unlimited peripheral vision. Thus, they will often balk during handling if they see a moving object with their wide angle of vision. Light and dark zones, because of this black and white world, should be kept to a minimum. Loading ramps, working chutes, or crowding pens should have solid side fences to prevent animals from spooking at people, care, and other moving objects outside the facilities. This will also eliminate light and dark zebra patterns from sunlight passing through open type fencing.

FLIGHT DISTANCE: Just like people, cattle have a critical distance that they attempt to maintain between themselves and others.  When you or another animal penetrates this flight zone, the animal will move away. When you move away, the animal will stop. The distance may very from 200 to 300 feet with wild range cattle to almost nothing with tame dairy cows. When attempting to move cattle you should stay on the edge of this zone, moving inside when you want the cattle to move. Because of this flight zone and vision characteristics, cattle tend to circle around the handler. Thus cattle generally move easier in a curved chute, A curved chute also has the advantage of hiding the squeeze or loading chute until the animal is partially up the chute, The animal just sees the rear of the animal ahead until it is to late to attempt to flee.

SOUND: Cattle have very good hearing, Loud and clang metal sounds scare them very easily, High frequency sounds such as the cracking of a whip actually hurts their ears, Thus, when moving cattle, gates and doors should be well lubricated and move silently.

This diagram illustrates the correct position for the handler when a single animal is being moved through a curved chute. The handler should stay on the boundary of the flight zone. To make the animal move forward, the handler moves from position A to position B.