Regardless of the number of cattle you run — whether it be 15 or 150 — a well-designed, functional set of yards is basic to good management. The yards should allow safe, efficient handling of cattle for drafting and loading-out as well as restraining the animals for husbandry procedures such as drenching, vaccination, ear tagging and pregnancy testing.
When planning and constructing stockyards, it is important to ensure that operator safety is carefully considered, e.g. it is important that the yards are designed so that the stock handler is able to easily move out of danger should the need arise (see Agfact E2.7 Self-locking cattle gate latches).
Yards don’t need to be large or complicated in layout to work well. The four yard designs and variations illustrated in this Agfact have been constructed on many small properties. They will handle from 15–100 head of cattle at a time, are relatively cheap and simple to construct, and have a good record of performance.
The important points are that the yards should be:
The ideal site is a gravelly ridge with either a level area or a gentle slope down to the north-east. This provides a firm base, good drainage and quick drying in wet weather.
Other points to consider are provision of shade, availability of water and proximity to the house.
Any combination of materials can be used in the construction, the choice depending on local availability of materials and the amount you are prepared to spend.
The areas that receive a lot of pressure from stock — such as gateways, forcing yard and race — need to be sturdy and well constructed. You can’t afford to compromise on materials here. Panels should be made of sawn or bush timber, steel pipe or special cattle mesh.
Wire rope or cable is well suited for the outer fence in circular yards, and sheep mesh with bush timber rails on top works well where the yards are to be used for holding sheep as well.
Timber posts should be a minimum of 200 mm diameter, and steel pipe at least 75 mm. Posts in the race and forcing areas should be cemented into the ground. In some soils, cross-bracing at ground level or at the top may be necessary to reduce the chance of spreading.
Yard plan 1 is a basic rectangular design that will hold and work about 30–35 head of cattle. The race will hold two adult cattle plus one in the crush, while the forcing yard holds around seven head.
Yard plan 1. Rectangular cattle yard for 35 head
Yard plan 1. A basic rectangular yard. The race will hold two adult cattle, and the yard will handle 35 head. Note that this plan allows for a 2 m homemade crush. If a larger, commercial crush is used, the length of the race or the yard size should be adjusted accordingly.
One advantage of the design is that you can start with the basic yard (plan 1a) for 15 head of cattle, and add to it as required to accommodate greater numbers.
| Yard plan 1a. Capacity of 15 head || Yard plan 1c. Capacity of 25 head |
| Yard plan 1b. Capacity of 40 head || Yard plan 1d. Capacity of 45 head |
Most of the outside yard panels are 2.5 m wide (as indicated), with the main receiving gate 3 m. This gate can be located at either end of the yard depending on the farm layout and the direction from which the cattle come.
Note the worker access located on the left of the loading ramp.
The internal race width for this design is 675 mm and no more than 700 mm. Wider races are undesirable — they allow smaller cattle to turn around or get caught, slowing down the flow of cattle and making handling more difficult. For smoother cattle flow, the race should run up the slope, as cattle tend to baulk when running downhill.
Yard plan 2 is a small circular yard. It is smaller than the rectangular yard, but has a longer race and has a better movement of cattle around the yard and into the race.
Yard plan 2. Circular cattle yard for 10–15 head
Yard plan 2 is a basic circular yard plan to work 10–15 head. A very functional small yard.
The 7 m radius arc for the curved race extends from the rear of the crush to the end of the first panel in the forcing yard. The first panel of the race is a sheeted-in gate that swings across to divert cattle into the loading ramp. The worker access openings in the forcing yard allow easy access from the main yard and also out of the yard to the loading ramp when trucking cattle.
The additional holding yard in plan 2a increases the yard capacity to 30–35 head. Cattle can be drafted between the yards and fed into the race from either yard.
Yard Plan 2a. Circular cattle yard with additional holding yard (working capacity 30–35 head)
Yard Plan 2a has an additional holding yard which will increase working capacity to 30–35 head.
Adding yard B shown in plan 2b increases the overall working capacity to 60 head. The three central gates allow cattle to be drafted from any yard and also to move cattle between two of the yards without disturbing the cattle in the other yard. It is a very efficient small design that allows room for expansion without compromising the workability of the yard.
Yard Plan 2b. Circular cattle yard with additional holding yards (working capacity 60 head)
Yard plan 2b has additional yards A and B which increases the total working capacity to 60 head.
Yard plan 3 is another circular race design. It has a number of advantages over design 1: cattle flow better along the curved fenceline and move more freely from the forcing yard into the race. Cattle also pack more tightly into the race and the extra length will hold about seven adult cattle, the same number as the forcing yard. The yard of plan 3 will hold and work 30–35 head.
Yard plan 3. Circular cattle yard with improved stock flow (working capacity 35 head)
This basic circular yard (Yard plan 3) is similar in area to yard plan 1 but cattle flow is better. The race will hold seven adult cattle and the yard will handle 30–35 head.
The capacity of yard plan 3 can be increased by adding an additional holding/draft yard as shown in plan 3a. If required, a calf race and cradle can also be incorporated along the centre fenceline for normal calf marking operations.
Yard plan 3a. Circular cattle yard with separate calf race and additional holding yard
Again note the placement of worker access openings in the forcing yard and at the left of the loading ramp. A worker access opening is normally 400–450 mm wide with a small wire mesh or fully covered gate.
Laying out the yard is a simple operation using a length of string and two wooden stakes as a compass. One stake is used as a centre pivot, with the second 10 m out to outline the arc of the outer fenceline.
The outer panels are 3 m in length, except for those on the forcing yard and race which are 2.5 m. The inner panels of the race are shorter, about 2.35 m. These posts are located by running the string from the outside posts to the centre like the spokes of a wheel. The inner posts are located along these lines.
Where the calf race is to be included, the back side panel of the main forcing yard is made into a gate forming the entrance to the small, calf forcing yard. The internal width for the calf race is 350–400 mm, and fence height 1.05 m.
The gate at the rear of the crush is a sliding gate that can be operated from the crush area. Use a walk-through type bail head in preference to the swinging gate type bail.
The fourth yard design is similar to yard plan 3 but includes an extra yard and has a larger working area and a slightly larger forcing yard. It will handle around 45 head.
Yard plan 4. A circular yard that will handle around 45 head
Additional working and holding capacity can be easily obtained by extending the yards as shown in plan 4a. If the loading ramp is moved and yard A is added, the capacity will be increased to between 80 and 100 head. With yard B as well, the yards will comfortably handle 100 head or more.
Yard plan 4a. Circular cattle yard for 100 head
Yard plan 4a is a circular yard based on plan 4, with loading ramp moved and yards A and B added. The yards will now handle around 100 head.
The designs in this Agfact may need some minor adjustments to fit your particular situation. The location of gateways in the yard can be changed to make better use of existing laneways or paddock layout. However, the general plan outline and dimensions should be closely adhered to.
Most commercial crushes are 2.75–3 m long. Where a commercial crush is used, the length of the race panels or the gate in front of the bail head will need to be adjusted to accommodate the larger crush. Walk-through type bail heads that can operate from the front or rear are the most functional.
The internal race width should be 675–700 mm. The suitable width for a straight race is 675 mm, and for a curved race 700 mm. The entry width from the forcing yard into a curved race should be 750 mm to minimise the tendency for cattle to bump their shoulders as they enter the race.
When placing race posts be sure to allow for the width of the rails to achieve the desired internal width.
Concreting the race, crush area and forcing yard will reduce bogging and allow easy cleaning.
On a sloping site the curved race should run up and around the slope for better cattle flow. A circular yard will also work better if the cattle are moving back towards where they entered the yard.
Race floors can be stepped concrete, with 100 mm rises and 500 mm treads. Cleats on wooden or flat concrete floors are 300 mm apart at the centres, and about 50 mm high and 50 mm wide. Where sheeting is not used or does not extend to the floor, the cleats should extend beyond the width of the ramp by about 100 mm on both sides.
The minimum length for a ramp is 3 m, but ramps of 3.6–4.6 m are preferable. A level section of 800 mm to 1 m long at the end of the ramp will allow a smooth flow of cattle onto and off the truck rather than stepping onto a sloping surface.
Ramp floors need to give good grip, be easy to walk on, should not be slippery, and should not cause a hollow, drumming sound. Steel floors should not move or buckle under weight. Animals should not be able to see through ramp floors.
This Agfact was originally written by R. J. Wilton of NSW Agriculture.