Portable Corrals Provide Many Benefits

Published on Fri, 09/24/2021 - 11:14am

Portable Corrals Provide Many Benefits.

 By Heather Smith Thomas.

 Applying low-stress cattle handling techniques and use of portable corrals can make many management practices feasible even when cattle are in large range pastures.  Dr. Tom Noffsinger, a Nebraska veterinarian, says that using a few portable panels in conjunction with a basic “Bud Box” can make cattle handling easy—whether for sorting, loading into a truck or trailer, putting them through a chute for vaccinating, AI, etc.  The Bud Box is a simple design that is effective if stockmen understand the techniques taught by the late Bud Williams for low stress cattle handling/sorting/loading.

The Bud box is a short alley (where cattle are moved into a blocked end) about 20 feet deep.  At the gate where they came, you close the gate behind them and take a step toward the cattle, from the side where the chute is attached; the Bud box is perpendicular to the chute.  As the cattle move around you to go back out the way they came in, with just a little side pressure you can direct them right into the chute.  Since it’s very close to where they came in, they naturally go into it.

“A person can use this type of facility for loading pairs out in the pasture, or putting them into a chute for doing synchronization and AI, giving pre-weaning vaccinations, and so on,” Noffsinger says.  You take the corral to the cattle rather than having to bring the animals from a distant pasture to the working facility.

“There are some very simple corral configurations, using portable panels.  You can create a working system with an appropriate number of 10, 12, or 14-foot panels—whatever you have on hand.  Some of the simplest facilities utilize 2 holding pens and a simple short Bud Box, and then a straight alley that goes back along one of the pens.  That way you get dual use from that row of panels,” explains Noffsinger.

“There is enough awareness now, regarding some of the things Bud Williams taught, that more people understand these corral set-ups.  We can use simple facilities to do a variety of things, whether to load cattle, or to process them and turn them loose again in the pasture.”  Proper timing of vaccinations is now a feasible goal, for instance.

“We know vaccines work well if we can give them ahead of stress, exposure and transportation.  I spend most of my time in feedlots, and sometimes wonder why we even bother to vaccinate cattle upon arrival because it’s not very effective.”  Those young cattle have just come through a lot of stress, including transport, and have a compromised immune system--unable to respond appropriately to vaccination.  If calves could be vaccinated a few weeks ahead of being shipped, this would make a big difference.  Portable corrals could make this more feasible for many ranchers.

“The success of these little portable facilities is due to proper cattle handling. This takes a lot of the stress and challenges out of using portable fences.  Cattle don’t want to hit a fence.  It’s painful.”  If an animal hits the fence, it’s a sign that handlers were doing something wrong.

“One rancher asked Bud Williams what the best building material would be for a corral.  Bud said the best material was really loose old woven wire with a 1-by-4 board over the top of it.  If you broke that down, you’d know you were putting too much pressure on the cattle!”

Use of portable corrals can provide possibilities that many ranchers may not have considered.  They might not think they could vaccinate calves ahead of weaning, because the cattle aren’t handy.  But with portable corrals they can take the facility to the cattle, and vaccinate calves without having to bring them home.

Some people think they could never utilize AI because their cattle are in big range pastures that time of year.   And with a way to get hands on the cattle, we can utilize 2-phase weaning with nose flaps, because we can get calves in and install the nose flaps and put the calves back out with their mothers—and gather them a few days later to take the flaps out and transport the calves somewhere else.  

“Sorting and handling large herds can be facilitated by neighbors cooperating in purchase of a portable, straight, adjustable Daniels alley,” Noffsinger says. Automatic backstops let cattle go forward (but not back) without needing to shut a gate or put a bar behind them.  The double alley at the back allows cattle to enter side by side.  Easily adjustable height and width makes the alley usable for all sizes of cattle without them turning around or flipping over.  Sliding gates at front and back of the single alley allow you to use it without a chute.

“Sorting in holding pens rather than alleys also works, with the addition of strategic gate placement in holding pens,” says Noffsinger.

Dr. Kip Lukasiewicz (Sandhills Cattle Consultants, Production Animal Consultation) had a lot of early experience with portable facilities with a cow-calf practice in Ainsworth, Nebraska.  “We had more than 45,000 cows in that practice and all our work was done out on ranches or in the pastures.  I got to see a lot of different portable corral systems.  Most of them utilized portable panels.  The ranchers pulled a panel carrier out to the pasture with them,” says Dr. Kip.

“There were many big herds in that area, and they’d often take 2 trailers loaded with panels, to deal with many cattle.  Most of the panels were made by Daniels Manufacturing or Baasch (Baasch and Sons, Cairo, Nebraska),” he says.

“Some folks just set up a circular pen, and sorted the calves back to the pasture from that pen, leaving the cows in.  We’d preg-check the cows and turn them out.  That worked, but was never as efficient as when there were 2 circular pens,” he says.

“Some people set the portable corral beside a pasture fence, to use for a wing to aim them into the corral.  This works well, but you can set a corral up anywhere, even in the middle of a huge pasture, wherever it’s level enough.  It’s not difficult to guide cattle to the corral, if you handle them properly.”

As they are coming in, if you have a set-up with two round corrals, and put them into one circle, have the gates open for them to go into the second circle.  “If you want them to move from circle one to circle two, using the transition area between the circles, stand between the cattle and where you want them to go and ask them from that position to voluntarily move to the other pen.  You don’t try to push them in there; you always ask from the front.  Pushing cattle is counterproductive.”  You let the leaders come around and go the proper direction and the rest of the cattle follow in a natural flow.

“We let them flow into the next pen, then ask them to move back into the first pen—the one they came in at.  From there, we start the sorting process to sort the calves away from the cows.  As they circle around, we let cows go down one alley into a pen, and the calves can go underneath a panel (with the bottom rail or rails removed so the calves will readily fit through) alongside the cows, and then the calves are in another pen.”  You can set up a facility like that with portable panels and one or two people can sort a herd very quickly, with no stress on the animals.  The cattle sort themselves.

“If we are vaccinating everything, we always vaccinate the calves first.  We put them through the alley with the Bud Box.  We do the calves first because they want to stay where mom is.  If we do the cows first and turn them out, they will be around either side of the two round pens and the calves just want to be near mom and don’t move very well when we try to put them through.  If the calves know they are going back to where mom was when we separated them, we can easily take the calves, right by the alley where mom is standing, and they are willing to through there.”

The OK Corral system, and some other portable systems can be set up very easily.  “Some systems are on hydraulics--easy to set up for larger operations.  Even a small operation could afford these if two or three neighbors partner together.  In many regions neighbors work together when processing cattle anyway.  They could partner on a good portable corral set-up.  It’s something a rancher might only use 2 or 3 times a year, but if neighbors went in together on it and use it 6 times a year and split the cost, it becomes affordable.”
OK Corrals
Todd Perkins, General Manager of Titan West, Inc. Livestock Handling Equipment, says the OK Corral system they manufacture is popular with cattle producers.

Titan West was created in 2003 by Dave and Linda Smerchek in Waterville, KS after they purchased Linn Enterprises—a local manufacturing business in Linn, Kansas that began 32 years earlier.  Linn Enterprises originally made portable corral panels, hog panels and then introduced continuous fencing and the OK Corral system.

“Today we make the OK Junior corral which holds up to 50 cows, the OK Original, which holds 80 to 100 cows, and the OK Senior, which holds 160 to 200 cows,” says Perkins.  “Producers should select one that best fits their needs.  The larger corrals take more labor to set up and sort from.  The OK Original is still the most popular; about 90% of the corrals we build are the Original system.  One person can set it up in 10 minutes or less, and 2 people can do it in 5 minutes,” he says.

“With the OK Corral, you don’t have to unhook from your pickup.  You just pull into the pasture, swing open the gate system to create the corral and are ready to gather cattle,” says Perkins.

“About 6 years ago we came out with an extension called the Corral Buddy. It can make an OK corral larger (whichever size it is) and is also a small portable corral all by itself.  This one is a bumper hitch, whereas all the other systems are gooseneck pull.  All our portable corrals have tail lights, so if it’s after dark hauling them, you are legal and safe,” he explains.

“The OK corral (whichever size) creates 2 pens of equal size.  You can sort cattle from one pen to the other.  It also has a load-out area where you can load a stock trailer or a semi, or put cattle into a working chute or a portable tub, at the back of the corral.  The OK Corral Original and the Senior both have a compartment right behind the gooseneck stem, like a trailer, and you can haul a sick animal, saddle horse or 4-wheeler in that compartment,” Perkins says.

Every OK Corral has a 5 year-warranty against animals tearing it up.  There are also multiple options.  “On the Original, wheels are an option, on the panels.  When the ground is muddy or there’s snow it’s pretty tough to roll a wheel.  Our wheels flip up, so a person can just pick up one end of the panel and carry it around.  If you want to be quick, however, you can flip a wheel down, if you’ve chosen to include wheels on the panel.  Then you can roll it around, to make it quicker for closing the panels or gates.”  Depending on the terrain, wheels can be a big advantage, or a disadvantage.

“On our Senior corral, wheels are necessary, but can be a disadvantage at times, if it’s hard to roll uphill or through a ravine.  If you are always gathering 160 to 200 head of cattle, the Senior size is the way to go.  But you can take the Original Corral and use two 12-foot panels to make it 50% bigger.  If there’s only one time of year that you need to be able to catch 150 head, you are better off to buy the Original and just take a couple extra panels on the day you’d gather that many cattle,” he explains.

“We also make what we call a horse front in the compartment area, with a bullet nose on it with a drop-down door.  Horses can load in there just like a two-horse side-by-side trailer,” he says.

“Several years ago we added a “walk-thru” option on the back 24’ panels.  This allows for exiting the pen without crawling over the 7-Bar Panels.  The “newest” option is a stanchion headgate that swings down from the top of the frame.”

There are 8 panels on the Original OK Corral.  “There are four 24-foot panels and four 18-foot panels.  Coming off each corner of the corral is a 24’ and an 18’ panel.  You lift them up and swing them out by cranking a winch—to pick those panels up.  It has a safety brake in it, so when you stop it half way it won’t break your arm,” he says.  
“We also build permanent corral systems.  But if a person needs to be able to work cattle in multiple locations, why not buy a portable system.”  Many ranchers rent pasture or lease a ranch, and don’t want to build a permanent facility on a place they may not have 2 years or 5 years from now.  

Rawhide Portable Corral
Cassy Wilson (Marketing) says owner/inventor John McDonald developed this system after working with cattle and rodeo livestock for many years.  He formed his company in Abilene, Kansas 18 years ago to create an easier way to put up corrals than haul panels around—after back surgery and his children going off to college left him trying to do cattle work by himself.  He thought panels on wheels would be easier to move around.  Today, John and his wife Mary run this business as a family operation, with help from their children.

He created a new design in 2010, called the Rawhide Processor.  “This is a gooseneck hitch system with permanent transport wheels, and a permanent sheeted working alley.  Our corral is the only one with a permanent sheeted alley and it has the largest capacity available on the market,” Cassy says.
The Rawhide Processor is offered in 3 sizes: standard, large and super large.  

“The Standard model is great for small herds, with 40 to 50 cow/calf capacity.  The Large Processor is the most popular model and holds 80 to 100 cow/calf pairs.  The Super Large system holds 140 cow/calf pairs.”

The newer design is versatile and easy to use.  “The adjustable alley can accommodate whatever size cattle are being worked—it is adjustable from 30 inches wide down to 16 inches—and you can make this adjustment manually or hydraulically.    A headgate can be mounted on the end of the alley, for on-site processing.  Another option is a self-contained loading chute. No matter which design or size you select, the gates are wide enough to drive a pickup truck through the corral and out the opposite end, if you want to lure cattle into a corral with feed.

“Each panel section has its own solid rubber wheel, so these tires never go flat when you are out in the field.  These 16-inch transport wheels are permanently attached to the panels, and retract up or down with the flip of a switch.  You no longer have to unpin the wheels or slide them off the axels to roll out of the way,” she says.

“There are also ‘man-pass’ gates installed in four of the panels.  These allow people to go into and out of the corrals without having to climb over panels—which makes it easier and safer,” Cassy says.  The panels can be rearranged to create multiple smaller pens, for sorting.

“The best thing about these corral systems is that they are easy to transport and easy to set up.  One person can do this, without lifting a panel.  This set-up was created to be easy for one person to set up, manipulating panels into any desired configuration—it can be one big pen, or two, or even three or four pens for sorting.  John designed this system so you can add equipment, or take it away, as needed,” explains Cassy.

This model is available only as a gooseneck transport system, for support and convenience.  “It has a self-contained power unit with a long-lasting marine battery and a solar panel mounted on top of it,” she says.

Diamond W Corrals
These systems are created by Burlington Welding LLC (Cherokee, Oklahoma).  R.L. Wilson (designer and General Manager) says their portable working chute and alleyway and Diamond W Corral sorting system have become very popular, along with another innovation called “Cow-calf Corral with Expanders” that can be set up in various configurations.

“Our working chute and alleyway is 8½ feet wide in transport position, with a hydraulic lift on a gooseneck hitch.  It lifts up to 9½ feet high for working cattle.  In transport position the unit has 14 inches of clearance above the ground (with a hydraulic lift on the axle to raise it up).  You can also raise the wheel and tires 2 inches off the ground if you have to change a flat tire without a jack,” says Wilson.

The lifts for the gooseneck hitch and the axle lift are powered with a 12-volt hydraulic pump with control switches—one for the hitch and one for the axle lift.  “A solar panel keeps the battery charged, but there’s also a set of battery cables for backup in case the solar panel can’t keep up with usage,” he explains.

The chute itself is made by Cowco, Inc. and has a side squeeze on the head gate, with right and left side exit panels.  “There is also a palpation cage behind the chute, with a rolling tail gate behind it, creating a safe area for the person doing preg-checking.  The chute and the palpation cage have rubber flooring,” says Wilson.

The alleyway is adjustable; both sides can be moved—to adjust from 18-inch width up to 36 inches.  “Both sides of the alley have a gate with spring-loaded latch so a person can release cattle if needed.  There is a backup gate in the alley which allows cattle to pass forward but keeps them from backing out of the alley.  The sides of the alley are made of sheet metal, 4 feet tall.  The rear of the unit consists of two 7-foot gates and two 6-foot gates (two on each side) that can swing back and tie into other corral systems,” he says.

The Diamond W Corral Sorting System is a gooseneck unit that has been patented.  “The 6 foot alley is 33 feet long, with 16 gates.  On each end of the alley there are two sets of double 6-foot gates, and 4 sorting pens.  All the panels are 6 feet, 2 inches high and can tie into any type of portable corral or a stock trailer,” says Wilson.  The hydraulic system to set it down on the ground or lift it up for transport is run by 12-volt solar batteries.

“This portable sorting system on wheels can be set up on any type of terrain or uneven ground, and two 10-foot gates allow you to drive though the pens to lure cattle in with feed,” he says.

All equipment is designed for one man set up, legal to go down the highway, and can be used with other types of equipment.

The Cow Calf Corral’s base unit is a round tube corral weighing 6200 pounds.  It has three 4-foot walk-through gates, two behind the cage and one in the number 3 panel on the left side.  There are four 6-foot gates, two gates in the number 1 panel, and two gates in the number 2 panel.  There are two center divide gates.  Each gate is comprised of a 12-foot gate frame with a 9-foot gate cut in them. The 6-foot cutoff gate on the backside of the cage and two double 6-foot gates on either side of the cage enable a user to tie to a stock trailer or another working system.  The two outside pens are on 4-wheel trailer designed with a walking center axle.

The trailer frame has a transport length of 36 feet with 30 feet of panels built on top of that frame.  To utilize the unit, 3 panels on both the front and rear of the frame are pulled beside the corral.  These panels are then tied into the corral at the 6-foot gate in the #1 panel and 6-foot gate on the #2 panel.  This setup allows an additional 1100 square foot on each side of the round tube corral or can be used as a wing to gather cattle, and all 3 pieces of equipment can be set up by one person.