Basic Feed Yard Layout Explained

by Mark Deesing, Cattle Behavior Consulting

Feed Yard Components

The drawing and this article explain a feed yard’s components. The heart of the system and the most critical part is the curved handling area, the “working chutes.” Three half circles make up the working chutes, and the center points are along the layout line. The 12 ft. radius for the crowd pen and the 16 ft. radius for the single file chute are the same for ranches, feed yards, or packing plants. These two half-circles join to form a 30-degree funnel into the single file chute. The 30-degree funnel is critical and allows handlers to move cattle into single-file quickly. Two cattle can get stuck at the entrance when the funnel is less than 30 degrees, and when the funnel is wider than 30 degrees, several cattle tend to block the entrance to the single file chute. The radius for the wide curved lane can vary depending on the number and speed of the animals moving through it. A large feed yard might use a thirty-five-foot radius to hold 100 or more cattle, whereas a twenty-foot radius is large enough for most ranches and holds about 40 cattle. The curved lane in the example drawing is 24 feet, and the curved alley holds about 75 cattle.
Feed Yard Layout Example
Drawing by Mark Deesing

V-Shaped Or Straight-Sided Single File Chutes

When working with different-sized animals, use a V-shaped single-file chute. A V-shaped chute prevents small animals from turning around and is wide enough at the top for large cows. Slaughter plants use a straight-sided single file chute because all the animals are about the same size.

Low-Stress Handling

Cattle should move through the wide curved lane, pass through the crowd pen, and enter the single file chute in an orderly manner. Reducing stress on cattle before they reach the squeeze chute minimizes the stress of restraint in the squeeze chute.

Covered Work Area

I recommend a covered area over the squeeze chute. Use fully enclosed and heated buildings in cold temperatures and simple shade roofs in warm climates. The work area inside the building should be easy to clean with washable walls and drains or gutters for wastewater removal. The minimum size for a building is 24' x 24', which allows room to set tables and other equipment. Small buildings are easy to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. In the example drawing, a dotted line shows how to enlarge the structure to include office space, a break room, toilets, and a safe place to store medicines and equipment.

shipping receiving chute

Shipping/Receiving Chutes

Cattle are received and shipped from the semi-truck ramp and a ground-level stock trailer chute. The wide curved lane and the crowd pen are used for shipping and receiving. When laying out the curved system, ensure 150' of clear space for semi trucks to turn around. The selector gate in the crowd pen closes off the single-file chute and directs cattle in and out of the loading chutes. A load of cattle can be offloaded and held temporarily in the wide curved lane. From there, they can continue into the shipping/receiving pens or go back toward the crowd pen and single file chute to the squeeze chute for processing.

Sorting Pens and Gates

The sort pens on the left and right sides are the primary sort pens. Each pen holds 100 cattle. Two sort gates direct cattle into the pens on the right and left sides, and the center pen is always open and used as an outlier pen for sick or injured cattle or those who may need to return to the squeeze chute for additional treatment. You can extend the hydraulic lines from a hydraulic squeeze chute to control the sort gates. Mount the gate controls on the squeeze chute.

Moving Cattle in Alleys

After sorting, cattle leave the sort pens into a 12' alley thru a 14' gate. For safety, 14' gates fully opened can not be pushed back on the handler. Twelve-foot-wide alleys are preferred and safer for handlers on foot. A single handler can spread his arms in a 12-foot alley and prevent cattle from turning back. In wider alleys, cattle see a clear space on either side of a handler and turn back more often. If using a 14-foot wide alley, the gates should be 16-foot and open, so they open on an angle.

3-way cattle gate


Three-way gates smooth 90-degree intersections that cause cattle to stop or turn back. The three-way gate system in this example has three gate posts in a V-shape. Dig a large hole and set the posts in concrete. When the concrete dries, weld supports to the posts for extra stability and install the gates. Install man-gates on each corner for safety.

Pre-or Post Handling Holding Pens

The auxiliary holding pens serve several purposes. They can hold cattle from the feed yard before re-implanting or weighing. The pens can also keep newly arrived cattle or cattle waiting to ship. The sorting and auxiliary holding pens are for "short-term holding." Short-term means no overnight holding, and providing water is optional. The industry standard for short-term holding is 20 square feet per animal.

Receiving/Shipping Pens

The receiving/shipping pens each hold one truckload of cattle on 75 square feet per animal. A 12-foot wide concrete apron prevents mud buildup around the feed bunk. Cleaning access gates installed on both ends makes cleaning easy. A rough broom finish on the concrete feed apron prevents slipping and slopes away from the bunk. Guards installed around the waters protect the tanks from damage and prevent cattle from defecating in the tank. At the end of each pen are 12-foot cleaning access gates. Open all gates and use a skid steer to clean the apron.

feed yard cattle eating

Fattening Pens

The industry standard for a fattening pen is a minimum of 150-square feet per animal, but this amount of space is not always ideal. In areas with high annual rainfall, allow more space to prevent mud from building up in the pens. Slope the pens to drain from the concrete apron down and across the cattle alley into the drainage area. The ideal slope is three-percent or 3-feet per one hundred feet. Slopes steeper than three percent erode over time, and less than three percent allow mud to build up. The slope extends across the cattle alley to ensure the alley is not muddy. The drain area between the fattening pens and the sorting pens is a trench with the sides sloped to the center. Drain water enters the trench from both sides and slopes away from the feed yard and working areas. The high ground is the feed lane and feed bunks. The next row of pens slopes the opposite way. Place water trough two-thirds down the fence from the concrete apron to encourage cattle to utilize the entire pen. Water placed close to the feed bunk causes cattle to congregate in the area. A concrete apron around the water trough prevents mud buildup and makes getting to the water easier for cattle.


A feed yard should be like a fine hotel for cattle. All design aspects provide a low-stress experience geared for comfort. Good food, a comfortable living space, and fresh, clean water are our goals and obligation to provide.