Designing cattle yards for safety and efficiency

A cattle yard that is designed to keep people safe will also keep cattle calm and make drafting, loading and other tasks faster and easier.


How to design a safe cattle yard

There are four key elements to consider when designing a safe cattle yard:

  • cattle behaviour
  • the skill level of the people using the yards
  • how to separate people from cattle as much as possible
  • the hardware and materials you plan to use

By taking the time to consider these elements you can ensure your new or upgraded cattle yard:

  • keeps everyone working in it safe
  • is easy to use, even for less experienced cattle handlers
  • results in less cattle stress and bruising
  • increases your productivity

As the owner of a cattle yard, you have a responsibility under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) to ensure it is safe to work in, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Designing yards with cattle behaviour in mind

Understanding how cattle behave is central to designing a safe and efficient yard. A well designed cattle yard does the hard work of pulling cattle through. This means cattle handlers will not need to push the cattle, making drafting, loading and restraining cattle safer and easier.

Thinking about how cattle see, hear and react to what is going on around them can help you understand how best to encourage them to flow freely through the yard.


  • Cattle have a wide range of vision to the sides, but blind spots in front of their nose and to the rear. This means they can be distracted by movement to the side, or alarmed by movement behind them. Solid sides block distractions and keep cattle focused on where you want them to go.
  • Cattle will flow better if they can see other cattle ahead. Curved, single file races help keep cattle focused on moving forward and prevent distraction from cattle behind. Avoid dead ends as they can cause cattle to become stressed.
  • Their vision has low clarity, focus and contrast. This means cattle can think a shadow on the ground is a hole, which will cause them to baulk. A yard that keeps shadows to a minimum will help keep cattle moving.
  • Light up ahead can be used to draw cattle through the yard, but keep in mind that bright sunlight can make them baulk. Even, diffused light will give the best results.

Use the flight zone and point of balance to your advantage

  • Because of the way their vision works, cattle have a flight zone, which you can use to start and stop movement.
  • Elevated walkways or catwalks keep cattle handlers and cattle separate, but allow cattle handlers to engage flight zones and points of balance to keep the cattle moving. A flag or paddle can safely be used from an elevated walkway.
The illustration shows an overhead view of an animal in the middle of a circular 'flight zone' noting the blind spot and optimal handler positions when moving cattle.

Knowing how the flight zone and point of balance work can help you handle cattle safely and efficiently.


  • Cattle get easily frightened and stressed by noise. You are more at risk of injury when working with stressed cattle.
  • Think about what is making noise in your cattle yard, and how you might be able to silence or reduce it. For example:
    • Remove chains that bang against steel.
    • Use rubber stoppers to reduce the noise that gates make.
    • Ensure cattle handlers know when and how to use their voice.
    • Pipe exhausted air from air gates further away.

Designing yards with your workforce in mind

When designing yards, consider who will be using them and how to keep those people safe. Some yards require more cattle handling skill to use safely.

A budget set of yards may end up costing you more. You might need to hire more experienced cattle handlers or spend more time training your current cattle handlers to use the yards safely. You may also need to do extra work to ensure gates are placed appropriately and that escape routes exist.

A yard design that keeps cattle and people separate may cost more up front, but will:

  • be easier for less skilled people to use
  • improve flow, which increases efficiency and reduces fatigue for cattle handlers
  • greatly improve safety, especially if people are working alone in the yards

Well-designed yards will likely improve your labour efficiency and make training cattle handlers easier.

Separation of people and cattle

The safest cattle yards keep people and cattle separate. Yard design options that allow for separation of people and cattle include:

  • Curved, single races that cattle handlers can walk alongside to engage the point of balance to move cattle without being in the yards with them.
  • Gates that can be operated from outside the yard.
  • Elevated walkways or catwalks that allow cattle handlers to engage the point of balance from above the cattle.
  • Walkways between yards.

Design your yard for maximum flow

Cattle yards that utilise cattle behaviour principles will encourage cattle to flow through easily. This means cattle handlers will not have to push cattle through the yard, making their job safer and easier.

It is important to get the placement of curves right in relation to pens and other parts of the yard. Yard manufacturers can provide advice on this and there is also information available online from animal behaviourists like Temple Grandin.

Yard hardware and materials

The hardware and material choices you make when designing a yard have a direct impact on how safe it is for cattle handlers and cattle. When designing a yard, consider the following:

  • An even, mud minimising surface will prevent cattle baulking, falling, stumbling or limping. It will also reduce the risk of cattle handlers being injured because of boggy ground. Consider putting in a drainage system.
  • The slope of the entry point will impact how well cattle enter the yard. Cattle can baulk and hesitate when walking down a slope, so a flat entry is always best.
  • Non-slip flooring will improve safety and efficiency in areas such as the exit from the crush, around scales, and on and in the run up to loading and unloading ramps.
  • The concrete needs to be mounded up around the posts to reduce rusting off with sediment and urine pooling at the base of the posts.
  • All high cattle traffic areas need to be stenciled to provide grip so cattle don’t slip. Or alternatively there are soft flooring systems available.
  • Solid sides will prevent cattle becoming distracted by movement or other farm activity.
  • Pneumatic gates will reduce unnecessary disruption or spooking of cattle.
  • Minimising shadows created by the yard and anything hanging off raceways or yards will reduce baulking and distraction.
  • Crushes should block the animal’s vision and provide pressure that is not too tight or too loose. A crush with adjustable pressure for different classes or size of cattle is best.

Keep up to date with new cattle yard technology

The cattle industry is ever changing and evolving to suit consumer demand and increased productivity. Keeping up date with new and emerging technology in yard design can make it easier for you to adapt and keep your yard safe and efficient. New technologies already having an impact include:

  • RFID scanning and weighing
  • automated drafting
  • breed and size separation
  • waste management

More information and advice

Yard manufacturers and your local cattle extension professionals can provide information and advice about yard design.