What is the best way to stop weaners from turning around in races built for larger adult cattle?
The problem is a common cause of wasted time and frustration on many cattle properties.
Solutions such as V-shaped races or inserting portable panels inside straight-sided races to narrow their width when handling weaners have been tried with various degrees of success (more on this below).
But what of the idea of adjustable width races? Do they work?
Roma cattle producer Charles Nason (a cousin of the author of this article) is about to replace the race in his cattle yard.
He thinks a race that can be adjusted quickly and simply to three basic widths – 32, 28 and 24 inches (81cm, 71cm and 60cm) – would be the “holy grail” of yard design.
A race that can be adjusted easily to match the type of cattle being handled could help to keep weaners moving smoothly and reduce wasted time and labour costs.
However, examples of practical, user-friendly and robust designs that are proven to work seem few and far between.
A quick internet search helped us to locate one Australian-made adjustable-width race, a pneumatically-adjustable race made by Thompson Longhorn (there could be others, if you are aware of any please let us know).
We also found a range of adjustable-width “alleyways” from the United States, such as this manually-adjustable version from Linn Post and Pipe.
Another useful article we found, produced by the Queensland Government, discusses the pros and cons of different designs including V-shaped races and adjustable width races. Here is an extract:
“V-races reduce turning problems when various size cattle are worked but are more difficult to construct and work over.
“Unless the bottom 900 mm of V-races are blanked, stock tend to put their legs through the rails and get wedged more easily if they go down.
“The bottom two rails can be hinged for easy release if animals go down.
“To partly overcome the problems in working over V-races, a catwalk or walkway can be constructed on the working side. The height of the walk is 1.1 m below the top rail height. Catwalks often get in the way of an operator inspecting for ticks.
“Cattle work well in races that are fully cladded on the non-working side and clad to a height of 900 mm on the working side. However, cladding on the working side is not suitable for many properties where stock are held in the race for cattle tick inspections.
“Cattle move more freely and tend to reverse less often in a curved race than in a straight race as they tend to follow the outside fence around.
“Adjustable-width races reduce turning problems. However, they are practical only where large numbers of similar-sized stock are being handled at one time. Some adjustable races tend to increase noise and reduce the robustness of the structure.”
(You can read the full document – the Queensland Government’s information guide on designing cattle yards – here)
One cost-effective idea that has been proven in practice when working weaners, but involves additional set-up work and disassembly afterwards, involves inserting temporary panels inside a straight-sided race to reduce its width. This approach was explained by Brisbane Valley cattle producer Carli McConnel in this earlier FutureBeef Beeftalk newsletter.
For those with bigger budgets, another option is to build two races – one for adult cattle and one for smaller weaner cattle, typically with a bar or rail overhead to prevent weaners from jumping.
To further the conversation we’d be interested to hear if readers can expand on the strategies they have used to stop weaners from turning in races, and in particular of any experiences they have with v-shaped and adjustable width races.
If a universal working adjustable-width cattle race design that saves labour does not exist, is it something the industry should consider investing research funding into?
Let us know what you think either by adding a comment in the section below or contacting us here