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Tubs Vs. BudBoxes: BudBoxes Win!

Editors Note: This is the fifth excerpt from Stockmanship Journal’s article “Grandin’s Approach to Facilities and Animal Handling: An Analysis” (Volume 3 Issue 1). (Click to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) The authors, Whit Hibbard and Dr. Lynn Locatelli, are both practitioners and teachers of the Bud Williams school of stockmanship and are well known for helping feedlots and ranches improve their operations through Low-Stress Livestock Handling education.  In this article they look at the handling facilities designed by Temple Grandin, and compare it to their experiences with good stockmanship and animal behavior.  Each section begins with a summation of Grandin’s position followed with the analysis. The final article in this series will be a response from Temple Grandin.

StockmanshipJournalCoverThe purpose of the authors’ analysis is to encourage an exchange of ideas while analyzing, evaluating and critiquing theories and ideas in a search for better outcomes for animal handlers.   They want to help answer the questions they’ve often been asked:  “What kind of animal handling facilities should we build? Solid-sided, curved, tub systems, like those promoted by Temple Grandin can be expensive, but is that our best option?  Or are there are other ways to get us where we want to be?”

This is groundbreaking analysis and On Pasture is honored to be selected to share it as excerpts.  If you’d like to cut to the chase and read the entire article, here is the link.  Otherwise, we’ll see you here weekly for an analysis of handling techniques and facilities.

Part 5

Grandin (personal communication, Nov. 18, 2013) acknowledges that BudBoxes are fine in certain applications (e.g., farms and ranches where there are no outside distractions). She believes that BudBoxes cost less but take more skill, whereas tubs cost more but take less skill. Additionally, she claims that tubs are safer than BudBoxes. (For more about BudBoxes click here.)

An important point that needs to be emphasized is that any facility is workable as long as the people learn how to make it work. Williams demonstrated that he could make any facility work by training the people how to handle their animals better. Consequently, we believe that the primary emphasis should be on proper animal handling or stockmanship skills rather than mechanics.

Considering a multitude of experiences with tubs and BudBoxes, we are strong advocates of the latter. We believe that BudBoxes are not just “fine in certain applications,” but most applications where handlers have even the slightest regard for proper cattle handling, except for abattoirs. By the time animals get to the abattoir the personnel are dealing with animals from anywhere and everywhere that have experienced all kinds of different handling, may be traumatized, and they are at their biggest and strongest. Furthermore, abattoirs tend to have a high turnover rate in an often unskilled, and poorly trained labor force. Consequently, a system that shields the animals from the people and the people from the animals is warranted. In this regard, Grandin is to be commended for the good work she has done and the positive influence she has had on packing plants.

However, we think it is mistake not to differentiate between that application and the other layers of the livestock industry. Feedyards, ranches, stocker operations, and farms, we believe, are ill-served by unnecessary, expensive, often ineffective tub systems when there is a more cost-effective and efficient alternative—open and straight systems. Unlike abattoirs that have animals only a matter of hours and handle them once before they’re gone, farms, ranches, stocker operations, and feedyards have their animals for extended periods. Therefore, they should focus on cattle handling for welfare, performance, and safety reasons. If stockmen care about their animals, they should be concerned about their stockmanship.

Williams emphasized the quality of the human-animal interaction and the perfection of proper technique. Realistically, as noted, Grandin has had to design facilities where there is no time for human-animal interaction to shape the behavior of cattle (i.e., packing plants), and there is usually little interest or no training opportunity for the handlers to improve technique. Packing plants also run on a tight schedule where large numbers of animals need to be processed and there is no time for stalls. Designing facilities for packing plants with the aforementioned constraints is where Grandin excels. What must be differentiated is that feedlots, ranchers, stocker operations, and farmers do not have the same constraints as packing plants. Even feedlots care for cattle for 75 to 200+ days, which is plenty of time to work on the human-animal interaction and develop good animal handling skills, especially given the fact that pen riders interact with pens of cattle on a daily basis. There is a movement within the feedlot industry to handle cattle in a low-stress manner, and many operators are aware that mishandling cattle is costly and labor intensive. Likewise, many ranchers, stockers and farmers are interested in improving their cattle handling skills. Additionally, consumer interest in humane food animal production is helping drive industry-wide interest in LSLH techniques.

Unfortunately, the trend is towards mechanization, not stockmanship. The advent of sophisticated livestock handling systems, in an effort (some think misguided effort) to make livestock handling more efficient and safe, is eclipsing stockmanship. This is unfortunate. As Bud Williams has said, “We are heading in the wrong direction. We should be looking for behavioral solutions, not mechanical solutions” (Bud Williams’ Stockmanship School, Ft. Keogh, Montana, Sept. 2005). Similarly, Smith critiques “‘high-tech’ engineers disguised as Animal Scientists” and objects to the trend for “more and more mechanical solutions . . . to move animals from one place to another as the bulk of animal handlers in large facilities become increasingly untrained or, at best, ill-trained.” [13]

Stockmen at all levels of the livestock industry have fallen under the spell, erroneously being led to believe that they need a mechanical fix to solve livestock handling problems during processing, so what do they do? They buy tub systems, not knowing that there are more cost-effective alternatives: (a) learning to handle their animals better so they work adequately through their existing system, (b) making a few modest changes to their facility (e.g., a new gate or two) or changing cattle flow, or (b) retrofitting their system with a homemade BudBox instead of an expensive tub. The photo below is a perfect illustration. Here we see a small operator who added a tub to his existing facility when he could have easily retrofitted a BudBox with leftover lumber and posts he used to build his corral.


This new system may work fine. (Whether it will ever pay for itself is another question.) If it does not work fine, the owner may end up doing what owners all over the country are doing—replacing their tubs with BudBoxes.

Here’s another example, but of a larger operator. Again, a simple, cost-effective retrofit with a BudBox would cost next to nothing compared to the expensive tub system, and most likely would work better.


We do not believe, as Grandin claims, that BudBoxes take more skill to operate than tubs. In many instances, it takes a great deal of skill to get tubs to work, without which handlers resort to massive pressure at the expense of the animals and efficiency. Also, in our experience, it takes no longer to teach someone how to work a BudBox than a tub. In several instances I (WH) have explained the principles and technique of working a BudBox, demonstrated with one draft of cattle, then had the student successfully and easily do it. Additionally, having used both tubs and BudBoxes, we think the latter are more forgiving than tubs; that is, you don’t need to be as precise and you can recover more easily from mistakes. This may be because cattle aren’t forced through the system and may be more comfortable in a less confined setting. Lastly, in the experience of Clint Hoss, who has spent a great deal of time in both tubs and BudBoxes, “It takes more energy to work a tub than a BudBox to get the same result.”

A good way to examine the differences between tubs and BudBoxes is to put them “under the microscope,” so the speak, and what better way to do this than to work very sensitive animals through them. I (WH) recently asked the general manager—a good stockman and Bud Williams student—of a large bison operation for his experiences in processing bison. He said that he did not like tubs for the following reason: When you put bison in a tub and get on the catwalk, they will look up and fixate on you and there is no way to direct their attention to the opening of the snake without the liberal use of hot shots and ropes. He ended up tearing out the tub, replacing it with a modified BudBox, and the bison worked well. Furthermore, he found that tubs take much more skill to operate well than a BudBox and are much more easily abused than BudBoxes (i.e., you have captive animals in a tub that can be readily hot shotted and otherwise abused without worry, which you cannot do in a BudBox).

Regarding Grandin’s claim that tubs are safer than BudBoxes, that is not supported by our experience. It is true that people can get hurt, even killed, in any system, particularly if they don’t use the system correctly or handle the animals properly (although genetic temperament and prior experience are factors). The reader might ask why the people were in the tub? The answer is because that’s the only way they could get it to work. Quite often the lead up to the tub is absent of escape gates, which is the place that commonly puts the handler at risk for harm. Escape gates are desirable in all facilities. Handlers should always be aware of the signs that cattle exhibit when they are uncomfortable, unsettled, frightened and aggressive. An aware handler is one that has the best chance of avoiding injury. In any case, well-designed facilities should include escape gates.

Also, there’s an inherent safety hazard with solid-sided facilities: You can’t get out! I’ve (LL) been in one system that they called “the green mile” because there was no exit, no escape, and it went on forever. At least in a BudBox you have a toe hold and, ideally, an escape gate.

An advantage of the BudBox over the tub is that it avoids the “wall effect.” As noted earlier in this article, from the cow’s perspective, entering a tub is like running into a wall, whereas entering a BudBox is open, even inviting.

In my (WH) experience, driving animals into the tub shown is consistently met with resistance, whereas cattle never resist going into either of the BudBoxes shown. In contrast to open and straight BudBox systems, tub systems tend to be “bovine obstacle courses,” often uninviting, confusing, and difficult to navigate In many outfits we’ve seen frustrated operators replace their tubs with BudBoxes with excellent results. Here’s one experience of a feedyard in Canada as witnessed by Dawn Hnatow: “It was funny watching at Vee Tee Feeders when we tore the crowd tub out and put in a BudBox at the load out. The look on the truckers’ faces when they pulled up and looked at that! But it didn’t take very long and they were all about that BudBox. They didn’t have to do anything but close the gate! There was no fightin’, or gettin’ run over or knocked down. I loaded lots and lots of fat cattle out of there all by myself.”

Another advantage of the BudBox over the tub is that, if operated properly, you get a definite mind change in the animals to go back to where they came from, which you do not get in a tub. As explained above, animals do not exit a tub (or any other curve) because they think they are going back where they came from. In a BudBox they clearly do. Then, once that mind change occurs, it is used to advantage to carry the animals easily through the rest of the system (see The BudBox: History, Principles, Design, Operation in this issue).

BudBox systems also take less space than tub systems. This is very important in operations that have limited space, or if the operation wants to construct a building over the processing facility. Grandin recommends placing a building over the working facility, but never at the junction between the tub and the snake. [6] This happens all the time! Few outfits can afford buildings to cover all these curves, so guess where the building goes? A whole BudBox system (i.e., alley, BudBox and chute) requires only a small, hence affordable, easy to clean, and inexpensive-to-heat building.

Grandin argues that “animals move through a solid-sided curved chute more readily than through a straight chute because, entering from the crowd pen, they are not able to see people standing around the restraint device.” [6] The first consideration is that there should only be the necessary personnel working the cattle, and the people at the squeeze chute be calm and quiet. Second, the real issue is not the “people standing around the restraint device”; it’s how the people handle the cattle. If they handle the cattle properly they will not balk at people, or other distractions, up ahead.

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Whit Hibbard
Whit Hibbard
Whit is a fourth generation Montana rancher who spent aobut 38 years handling cattle conventionally before making the paradigm shift to low-stress livestock handling (LSLH) as taught by Bud Williams. For the past 10 years he has studied and practice LSLH, and shares his knowledge in clinics, onsite consultations, and articles. He began publishing the Stockmanship Journal in 2012. It is the definitive source for quality information on stockmanship. Though the importance of stockmanship is becoming well recognized, until this Journal, there was no professional publication addressing the subject. Hibbard began publishing the Journal in January of 2012 to provide a consistent and efficient way to share information on stockmanship, and to serve as a forum for open, intelligent and informed dialogue. The Journal is a means for improving the level of discourse and the discipline of stockmanship. It is published twice a year in electronic form and includes articles written by experts in the field.


  1. The point about expense of a tub is something that hits at all levels in ranch operations. Cattlemen are continually besieged by salesmen to but this and that, including feeds and parasite controls. Every input cost is subtracting from profit. There are alternatives to all these and it is from changing management philosophies.
    Well explained series of articles.

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