Cattle Working Facility – Part 1

Almost 30 years ago, Harland and his dad built a cattle working facility at the farm. It was homemade of cattle panels, wire fence, gates, and even an old propane tank. It was used whenever cattle needed to be worked:  for sorting calves from their moms for weaning, treating sick cattle, annual vaccinations, and loading cattle onto trucks for hauling.



But the design of the facility never quite worked right. It was dangerous for the cattle and for the humans too. It was a struggle to get the cattle to enter the alley for shots, and it was not unusual for cows to jump out and escape into adjoining pens. The alley was too large to confine the calves adequately for shots, so when we did annual calf vaccinations, we crowded them into a pen,which never worked well, and was basically a rodeo with us getting kicked and the calves trying to climb the panels to escape.


Over the years, the condition of the alley and pens deteriorated and repairs were made, but there finally came a time when it needed a complete overhaul.  We needed a facility that worked and was safer for the cattle and us.

So a few years ago, we began to discuss installation of an entirely new working facility. We would rip out the existing alley and pens, and install a fabricated alley with adjustable sides to accommodate both cows and calves. The pens would be made of pipe welded together, their posts set in concrete. And we would buy a fabricated tub where a handler can move a group of cattle into the alley –  the best feature of a tub is that it is worked by the handler while he is outside the tub, out of harms way of flying hooves.

Here is a tub in action:


As you can see, the handler swings a gate in behind a cow leaving her no choice but to go into the alley with her companions, while the handler remains safe and sound away from her.

Last year, we bought the tub and alley, and some of the pipe, but we didn’t have time to do any of the installation.

This year we were determined to get the job done. The house remodel kept us busy all summer, but finally a couple weeks ago, when Harland finished the corn harvest and the beans were too wet to harvest, he dug into the cattle working facility project.

First, he ripped out all the old pens and alley right down to the bare earth. Last weekend, we set up the tub and new alley where we thought it will work best. The alley assembled into sections and was easy to put together. But the directions for the tub assembly were nearly impossible to decipher – Harland and I puzzled over them, then Gerald, and finally Harland’s nephew(an engineer!) looked at the plans too. We were all equally confused. We had to assemble and disassemble the tub THREE TIMES before we got it right, wasting precious time and causing frayed nerves. But we finally got it done.

Our plan is to pour a concrete pad beneath the alley and tub, so this this was just a dry run to see where the pad needed to be poured.

Sorting Facility (1)

Sorting Facility (2)

The alley has adjustable sides that can be moved in and out to fit either fat cows or skinny little calves.

Below, you can see where the alley and tub meet:

Sorting Facility (3)

Sorting Facility (5)

Once the tub and alley was all in place, Harland dug some holes with the skid steer loader and auger attachment, and set some steel posts in concrete for the tub.

Sorting Facility (6)

Sorting Facility (7)

Sorting Facility (8)

Once that was done, he disassembled the tub and alley and set them off to the side out of the way.

Sorting Facility (9)

 Then last Thursday, Gerald and Ramona, having just finished the house siding project (pics to come soon!), began work on building forms for the concrete pad.

Sorting Facility (10)

Sorting Facility (11)

Sorting Facility (12)

Sorting Facility (14)

In the last 2 pics above, you can see a new electric pole. Last week, Harland replaced a rotted electric pole that stood adjacent to where the tub will sit.

Once the forms are complete, rebar and wire mesh will be installed within the forms and then the concrete will be poured. It will be allowed to cure before the alley and tub are set up again on the pad. In the meantime, Harland will be digging holes for the pen posts, and building the sorting pens. He’s also working on the soybean harvest. We’re on a time crunch because the cattle are coming home from the summer pasture in just a few weeks.

Stay tuned…

To see Part 2, click HERE.

To see Part 3, click HERE.

To see Part 4, click HERE.

To see Part 5, click HERE.



Cattle, corn, wheat, beans, mud, snow, ice, and drought. Plenty of fresh air and quiet. Our life is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, but never boring.

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10 Responses

  1. Anne says:

    I am so glad you are going to have these much improved working conditions. I am a “know nothing” but from your past photo essays I have come to understand a bit of the dangers involved. Work safe!

  2. Alica says:

    Nice!! I can identify with trying to herd cows (and especially heifers!!) where they don’t want to go! Protection from lunging animals and flying hooves is a GOOD thing!

  3. Chester's Mom says:

    Aren’t farmers amazing?! They can do anything!

  4. Mary in Idaho says:

    Very interesting. You explained it well enough for a non-cattle person to understand. The bottom line of my comprehension is that ranchers work very hard. Can’t wait to hear where you two are escaping to this fall/winter for A LOT of R & R!!!

  5. Dianne says:

    I think you would really enjoy the movie “Temple Grandin” (the woman who thinks like a cow) if you haven’t seen it. It was an HBO film starring Claire Danes. Your post reminds me of this movie – quite fascinating!

  6. JB says:

    Tuesday Oct 13–Love and totally enjoy your blog. You deserve so much credit for all the hard work you do. In my youth I had a farm–never had cattle but horses. It was never-ending work but was what I wanted to do. Now I am retired and your blog is wonderful. Hard work and a happy life, good people for sure. Always looking forward to your next posting.

  7. Linda says:

    This is really interesting, and that three-time’s-a-charm business reminded me of the last time I tried to assemble a cabinet that came in a box. You would think people could write clear instructions, but no….

    Elephant handlers have moved to the same sort of way of dealing with the creatures — from the safety of outside. Needless to say, elephant “tubs” are much larger, but the principle is the same, and it’s good that you’re going to have the added safety. I hope the weather cooperates for the harvest, and things don’t get too crazy, time-wise.

  8. Farmers are very hard workers and have the knowledge to do a ton of different jobs. I love reading of all the jobs Harland is busy at. But, they also are very honest folks. I grew up in the “big city” but, my husband grew up on a farm in SE Iowa. We were living in Cleveland when we went back for one of our visits. I went into town and made a purchase and went to pay for it with a check. I went to get my ID out when the clerk stopped me. He had looked at the name and said I know the name, no ID needed. The name was known to be a hard working honest name. I have never forgotten that.
    I to wonder where you will go for a vacation once things slow down for you. You have given me so many wonderful ideas for short trips around our area. We live in Kansas now.

  9. Rebecca says:

    This all looks great! Easier and safer are always a good thing with farming.
    Harland has alot of skills to do so many different projects. I enjoy your blog so much! I love reading about your life there on the prairie! How’s the new screen door?
    Kiss the kitties for me….
    Florida hugs,

  10. Jeanne L says:

    Well am I ever impressed! That will be a wonderful addition to the necessary work with the beasties! I hope there will be a video in the future, during actual use of the new setup. I shudder to think of how much extra work it was with that old system, not to mention the danger! I’m looking forward to hearing more…. 🙂

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