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article number 348
article date 06-03-2014
copyright 2014 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Raising Cattle and Sheep Becomes a Science, 1960
by Robert O. Gilden and F. G. Renner

From Power to Produce, the USDA annual yearbook of 1960.

IN THE DAYS of the open range, little thought was given to improving the forage resources. Sheep were trailed hundreds of miles to their grazing areas. Cattle were turned out to rustle their own forage, water at dangerous bog-holes, and find what little protection they could from pests and storms.

The modern rancher makes every effort to improve his rangelands, provide ample feed and clean water for his livestock, and protect their health and comfort so they will make the gains on which his profits depend.

Fences, which range stockmen once called the curse of the country, first were used to enclose the ranch boundaries to keep the owner’s stock where they belonged and to prevent trespass from his neighbors’.

Fences are needed still for that purpose. As more intensive management is practiced, however, the trend is toward cross-fencing. The greater number of smaller-sized pastures or paddocks that results permits separation of a part of the herd for breeding, feeding, and other purposes. The animals can be controlled better. More attention can be given to their individual needs.

Additional fences are used to protect cropland, newly seeded areas, and watering places, and to separate tracts that should be grazed in different seasons or that require other special treatment. A number of fenced grazing units also permit deferred use or other systems of grazing to maintain or improve the condition of the range.

A fence with four or five strands of barbed wire on posts a rod apart was once standard for cattle over most of the ranching country. Improved breeding has made the animals of today more docile than the wild range cattle of a few years back, and many ranchers have found that such heavy-duty fences are no longer necessary.

In many localities now fences have two or three strands of barbed wire and posts at intervals of 2 to 6 rods, with intervening stays. They are effective and less expensive.

These gates are suitable for various uses, and can be built of lumber or of metal pipes or channels of equal strength with bolted or welded connections.

Special features shown suggest variations to fit local requirements, materials, or preference. Gate posts should be sturdy. Wood posts should be treated with preservative.

WATERING PLACES are being used more and more as a tool in range management—a purpose they serve only if there are enough of them and they are properly located.

Watering places once were considered adequately spaced if they were not more than 4 or 5 miles apart where the topography was flat or rolling and about half that distance in steep, rough, timbered, or brushy country.

Cattle and sheep will travel considerable distances to water, but when they are forced to do so their rate of gain usually is reduced and the range itself may be damaged.

It is practically impossible to harvest the forage crop efficiently if watering places are too widely spaced. On one range, for example, 30 percent of the forage was going unused because the watering places were poorly located.

Fewer ranchers are satisfied now with such results. A marked change has been the development of additional watering places for the primary purpose of better range management. The number of watering places probably has quadrupled in recent years in the ranching country.

Farm and ranch ponds, which collect and store surface runoff, comprise most of these new developments. Ponds are easily constructed, require little maintenance, and usually cost less than drilling for underground Water. Ponds are sometimes built larger than necessary, but this unnecessary cost can be avoided.

A major Consideration is the amount of forage in the area the pond is intended to serve. The pond need only be large enough to insure a lasting water supply for the period this area should be grazed.


The ponds have other uses. Many are used for swimming and picnicking and furnish refuge for waterfowl. Some are stocked with fish. They may also provide needed water for fire protection and ice for skating or the house.

Dugouts, a special type of reservoir, collect runoff water for livestock in flat country where other types of pond sites usually are lacking. They are located in natural drainage channels or at low points where water can be collected.

They are simply wide, straight-sided trenches scooped out with a bulldozer. One or both ends are sloped to permit access to the water. The sides are fenced to keep livestock away from the steep sides of the excavation.

Because of the high evaporation in the regions where dugouts are used, they are made at least 8 feet deep, but otherwise their size can be varied as needed.

Wells may be the only source of enough water to permit the range to be used in places where there are no living streams and the rainfall is scanty or the runoff erratic, Wells are relatively inexpensive if underground water is known to exist at reasonable depths. They have the added advantage of providing good water that can be kept free from contamination.

The operator cannot always be certain of locating underground water, however. Therefore he does not know beforehand how much a well will cost, and he may be unwilling to take the risk of getting a dry hole or an unsatisfactory well. He must also consider the cost of the pumping equipment, storage facilities, and troughs and the continued attention needed to keep them in working order in deciding whether to rely on wells or other kinds of water developments.


CATTLE WALKWAYS are designed to make more efficient use of the millions of acres of marsh range along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Many miles of them have been built. They are low, flat-topped dikes. They extend into the marsh areas and are built with a dragline.

Cattle usually will not graze more than one-fourth mile from firm ground. Walkways constructed every half mile give them access to all parts of the marsh range if the borrow pits are staggered on each side of the walkway.

Walkways also permit more uniform distribution of the grazing animals and consequently more efficient harvesting of the forage crop over the entire range. They provide needed bed-grounds, places where cattle can be fed if necessary or where young calves can rest, refuge from annoying mosquitoes, and protection from unusually high water that may occasionally cover the marsh.

Walkways make excellent fire-breaks, They provide a firm base for fences. They also permit the owner to see all parts of the range and his livestock oftener and greatly reduce the time and work required to move the cattle from one part of the range to another or to round them up for shipment.

WINDBREAKS offer considerable protection to livestock from cold weather. They are being planted increasingly where low temperatures are extreme and other shelter is lacking.

They are not needed as a protection for livestock in places where winters are more moderate or where stream bottoms, canyon breaks, or tree thickets offer adequate protection. The heat generated by digestion and assimilation is more than sufficient to keep the animals warm under most conditions if feed is ample.

Protection from extreme heat, especially when animals are being fed, often is more important than protection from cold. Animals tend to lose their appetite as their body temperatures rise with an increase in the air temperature, and gains are affected.

Research has shown that daily gains of Hereford steers can be increased from 1.63 pounds a day to 2.28 Pounds simply by providing shade. Many ranchers therefore are building brush arbors to protect their animals from the direct sun for a part of the day where summer heat is excessive. They usually are 16 to 20 feet wide and 10 to 12 feet high to permit air circulation and long enough to allow 60 square feet for each animal.


LIVESTOCK WORKING structures for the range depend on three factors: Environmental requirements, managerial decisions, and production efficiency.

Since little is known of the limits and effects of environmental conditions on range animals and managerial decisions at best are variable, structures for the range have grown out of production efficiency.

The structures are many and varied. One that satisfies one rancher may not fill the need of another. One rancher for branding may need a complete corral setup that can be operated with little labor. Another rancher may use to advantage a minimum of corral and the maximum of labor because “rodeoing” is a competitive sport and cowboys need a place to practice.

Certain trends in management of range livestock do make structures necessary—for example, trucking instead of trailing; fencing instead of herding; more “horsepower” and fewer horses, and so on. In other words, ranchers are trying to achieve more and more efficiency in production.

The individual features of corrals, such as the working chute, working alley, and holding pen, have shown a great deal of standardization through use.

Users of working chutes formed some principles that underlie the design of chutes:
- a minimum length of 20 feet; the use of a tapered or adjustable chute, 16 inches wide at the bottom to a maximum of 30 inches at the top so young stock can be worked without turning;
- a walkway along the chute to facilitate handling of animals and control of grubs;
- close spacing of sideboards at the bottom so as not to catch legs of animals;
- taper from working alley into working chute with crowding gate;
- placing of the equipment so that animals work uphill and into the sun;
- prior to squeeze, a small gate to get in back of the animal is desirable;
- no sharp corners on fencing; no protruding bolts, screws, or nails.

The width of this chute may be varied according to cattle size by turning the two pairs of adjusting screws attached to the movable side. A hinged panel permits adjusting the throat width of the crowding chute to reduce bruising.

Length is 28 feet. Construction is of stock sizes of lumber pressure treated with pentachlorophenol.

Complete working drawings may be obtained through your county agent or from the Extension agricultural engineer at most State agricultural colleges.

The working corral should be accessible to central operation of cattle at time of use and to a road or transportation if shipments are by rail. Drainage should be good. Corrals in snow areas should he placed so wind will keep them clear of snow for all-weather operations. Water should be nearby. The position of line or drift fences should be kept in mind for they help working cattle into the holding pen.

The working alley is located to facilitate moving cattle from pen to pen and to the working chute. Several points should he kept in mind. The alley should be 12 to 16 feet wide so that horses may be used to move the cattle but narrow enough to span with a gate. A taper or funnel should extend from the working alley into the working chute.

It probably will be desirable to locate the loading chute, scales, and dipping vat (if one is used) from the working alley and keep a taper or funnel approach if possible. It may be well to have an area in the working alley to use as a small holding pen for 10 or 12 animals for spraying purposes. Cutting gates just ahead of the working chute may be useful.

The number and size of holding pens depend on the size of the herd and how it is managed. They should be located and arranged so that the cattle can be driven easily from the range into the large holding pen and from the pen to the working alley.

About 15 square feet per head should be allowed in the holding pen if the animals are to be worked through the corral immediately. More space may be needed if they are to be held for a while.

Fence boards on the inside of corral should have no sharp corners or protruding hardware. For a single fence that serves more than one pen, boards should be used on each side of a post or the post should be split and one-half used on each side of the boards.

Loading chutes enable cattle to enter or leave trucks by their own effort without injury. As the truck beds are 25 to 50 inches from the ground, the question of the height of the loading chute is often raised. Sometimes the height can be varied, but if a fixed height is used, most plans recommend 40, 42, or 44 inches.

A stairstep type, with a 4-inch rise and a 10- to 12-inch run, has gained favor as a safe loading chute. An earthfill chute also is good. The average width of a chute is 30 inches. Adjustable wing gates at the top, a bumper guard at the end, and walkways on both sides of the chute are desirable.

A more elaborate chute utilizes a movable gangplank to adjust the end of the chute that comes in contact with the truck.

This is a permanent-type chute using 6- by 6-inch posts set in the ground. The sides, faced on the inside with 2-inch boards, are fixed to allow a 33-inch passageway. The cleated ramp is counter balanced and can be adjusted to rest on a 2-inch pipe at heights ranging from 12 to 42 inches.
CATTLE CHUTE AND HEADGATES This chute has a catwalk and a small service gate on one side. Cattle may be let out through the 4-foot gates on either side.

SPRAYING (with portable sprayers or in the working alley or chute) has been gaining in favor, but many stockmen still used the dipping vat in 1960.

One who constructs a dipping vat should keep in mind that animals work easier uphill into sun and on a curve and when they cannot see too far ahead. The chute to the dipping vat should be similar to the working chute with blocking gates and solid sides.

The vat should be about 7 feet deep and 3 feet wide. It may be of the wade-in type, although many ranchers prefer the abrupt drop for complete immersion of the animals. The vat should be 30 to 35 feet long, with the last 10 feet on an incline for the animal to wade out.

Splash boards on top of the vat and two draining pens sloping back to the vat may be used to conserve liquid. While one pen drains, the other pen can be filling up.

Most scales are permanent installations, but portable scales are beginning to be used. A scale should be located so that cattle movement is cut to a minimum. It is not part of the traffic pattern when working cattle. It should be accessible to trucks.

Therefore it is next to the corral and connected to it by alleyways, so that the only time cattle cross the scales is when they are to be weighed. The rack for the scale should be mounted on the platform and removable to allow trucks and wagons to use it for weighing hay, grain, and so on.

The squeeze gate and headgate are located at the end of the working chute. Branding, dehorning, and vaccinating are done there. Many types, homemade and commercial, are in use. Most ranchers favor a commercial metal squeeze, but plans for homemade squeeze and headgates are readily available.

Mineral feeders are replacing block salt in exposed locations. The feeders, about 30 inches high at the base and 4 feet high at the top, are roofed to protect the minerals.

An effective feeder is a 55-gallon drum, mounted on a swivel composed of a front automobile wheel and axle. The axle is fastened to a base, and a metal vane at the top of the feeder keeps the opening oriented to the leeward.

Back-rubbers help control horseflies on range animals. They are made of burlap wrapped around wire or cable and suspended between two posts. The correct oil solution of the proper insecticide is poured on the burlap. The animals rub against it. It is placed where it is easy to service and where cattle gather.

These corrals show layouts to suit different sizes of herds and operations. A good arrangement of well-constructed pens, chutes, and other devices makes handling of stock easier, saves labor, and helps prevent accidents.

The approximate capacities are given to show the relative sizes of the corrals when the holding areas are filled. Some farm operators may prefer more or less space per animal, depending on the kind of operation.

SHEEP WORKING corrals are as many and as varied as those for cattle. Here again, certain fundamentals should be kept in mind. In the holding pens, 10 square feet per ewe should be allowed if they are held overnight. Only 5 square feet is needed if the sheep are being held for sorting.

One who designs a corral system should remember that sheep prefer to be worked uphill and try to get out where they entered. Because shadows make it difficult to work sheep, a north-south cutting chute usually is better. Painting the inside of the chute white will cut down the shadows.

Some sheepmen prefer a grading chute about 66 inches wide, with cross gates every 40 to 50 feet, between the holding pen and the cutting chute. In it the sheep can be graded and marked. They can then be separated by the use of cutting gates as they pass through the cutting chute.

The three-way cutting chute has two gates in the chute and one at one end. By placing these gates at the end of the chute, one man can operate them and cut the sheep four ways. Placing two more gates in the chute makes it possible to cut the sheep three ways—to the left or right of the chute, or straight ahead. The length of the cutting chute depends on how many cuts are made in one operation, but it should be at least 20 feet long.

The cutting chute is made of boards and is 18 inches wide and 40 inches high. Some sheepmen prefer a taper from 11 inches at bottom to 22 inches at top. It should have a crush pen from the grading chute to the cutting chute to help in moving the sheep. A block gate at the beginning of the cutting chute is also desirable.

It is necessary to have a variable-height loading chute in order to load both the top and bottom decks of trucks. The chute should have solid sides, with the last 12 to 14 feet hinged for elevating.

The number of animals hauled per load will naturally vary by size of the truck. A rule of thumb for paired sheep (ewe and lamb) and double-deck truck is 3.6 pair per foot of length for the light pairs, 3.5 pair for medium pairs, and 3.4 pair for heavy pairs.

In single-deck loading, 50-pound lambs can be loaded at the rate of 4.2 per foot of bed lengths; 75-pound lambs at 3.3; 100-pound lambs at 2.9; 125-pound ewes at 2.6; and 150-pound ewes at 2.2 to 2.3.

It is desirable to put fewer sheep on the upper deck when they are shipped any distance.


DUSTING OR DIPPING IS done to control ticks. The sheep are driven through the dusters at the end of the chute. Some ranchers use dusting barns in connection with shearing. After shearing, some of the band are driven into the barn, and dust is blown in.

The running chute to the dipping vat should be curved to obstruct the view. The inside should be solidly covered. A small decoy pen just before the dipping vat has been found useful in luring sheep into the vat. Draining pens are needed, as with cattle. The vat should be 2 feet wide and at least 30 feet long.

Not much use is made of lambing sheds in range lambing. Small tents are set up to protect the ewes and the newborn lambs during storms.

The high mortality of lambs born on the range has fostered a growing practice of lambing out at lambing camps or at permanent lambing sheds on the range or in the irrigated valleys.

LAMBING camps are a sort of compromise between range lambing and lambing out at permanent lambing sheds. The temporary shelters consist of tents and canvas- or plastic-covered frame buildings.

In the lambing sheds, small pens, or jugs, are used for the ewe and newborn lamb. As the lamb grows older, a number of ewes and lambs are penned together.

The jugs are about 4 feet square and 3 feet high, and are movable. One method of making them is to hinge or tie together two panels, each 3 by 4 feet, Two of these connected panels will then make a jug, 5 will make 3 jugs, 6 will make 4 jugs, and so on. The inside panels can be removed to let the ewes and lambs be together.

The minimum area per ewe in the lambing shed is 6 square feet. All gates and doors should be as wide as possible to lessen the chance of crowding and possible injury.

The shearing shed may be next to the working corral and easily accessible to both the range and transportation.

Some sheepmen maintain their own shearing equipment. However, there has been a trend to commercial, portable shearing outfits. It is best to have sweat pens where the sheep can be held for sweating and then moved down an alley to small holding pens, about 6 by 6 feet in size.


Back of the holding pens is the shearing floor, which should be elevated 3 to 4 inches above the holding pen and sloping toward it. The floor should be 7 to 8 feet wide, and 4 feet should be allowed for each shearer. The sheep move from the shearing floor through the shed to a holding corral.

The fleece is taken to a tying table, which has a top of spaced rollers of wood or pipe or of meshed wire. The table should be 10 to 12 feet long. A width of 42 inches will allow for two rows of fleece.

The fleece can be table-graded and taken to the sacker. The sacking frame, or rack, is about 7 feet high and has a 4-foot base, with steps up one side. It is well to have two or three sackers to receive the graded fleeces.

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