Home Livestock Behavior Low-Stress Livestock Handling and Corral Work – Part 1

Low-Stress Livestock Handling and Corral Work – Part 1


It’s important that we talk about corral work for the simple reason that that’s where we spend a lot of time with our livestock, and it’s often a very stressful time for both animals and humans. Also, it’s unfortunately a great place to hurt performance and to teach our cattle that being in a herd is a bad place to be which has negative ramifications for gathering, driving, and settling cattle together as a herd.

Conventionally, people often have to force their cattle into the corral because it’s someplace they don’t want to be because of the treatment they’ve gotten there in the past–or so we think–and they have them in such an uncooperative mood that they make the whole day difficult for them. But, of course, we don’t understand that that is of our own doing and, instead, blame and curse our miserable old cows.

Bud Williams makes the very important but generally unrecognized point that corral work begins long before we get them in the corral, and if we bring them in poorly by not using good technique and violate any of our Principles, they’re going to be uncooperative because their minds are going to be on going back.

Entering a Corral

Bud makes another very important point and that is that it’s not that the cows are afraid of the corral or don’t want to go in it. This photo is a great example of that. We were short 34 head of yearlings, so we made big circle to find them and still came up empty. When we arrived back at the corral, guess what we found – 34 yearlings happily standing in the corral.

That proves the point that cattle aren’t afraid of the corral. It’s how we bring ’em in; it’s what we do to ‘em before we even get there that matters to them. And if we bring them in properly we might find that we can leave the gate open and they won’t leave because they’ll be content being in there.

As far as driving cattle into a corral, one effective way is to have the riders zigzag in a T to the gate, and have someone stationed near the gate to ride reverse-parallel as the animals get close. This simple technique gets the all-important mind change in the animals of wanting to go into the corral to get past the rider, hence making our idea their idea.

You can see it in action here. These first-calf heifers are heading to the branding pen, a place conventional wisdom tells us they won’t want to go. However, as this handler rides reverse-parallel as the animals approach the entrance, their attention shifts to him and wanting to get past him, which mentally puts them in the pen.

Doing the reverse-parallel technique with a triangular return keeps the lead wanting to go forward and into the pen, which draws those behind.

When doing the reverse-parallel technique when entering a pen, it’s important that the rider focus on the lead animals and not go too far down the side. The objective is to keep the lead going which will draw the rest. Also, when the rider returns to the front to repeat the technique if necessary, he needs to take a wide birth so he doesn’t slow the animals down with what would be a forward-parallel movement as shown to the right.

Once in the Corral

To reduce the stress of corral work as much as possible, we cannot over-crowd the cattle. Cattle don’t like being crowded any more than we do. So it’s little wonder that those that have been over-crowded in the past might resist coming into a corral, and why they’ll be difficult to work once we get them in.

Once we begin to work the animals it’s imperative that we use the following good techniques.

Emptying a Pen From the Back

Conventionally, everybody wants to go in and get behind the animals and drive them out. This is a viable approach as long as we do it correctly, and one way to do that is to get behind the animals and zigzag in a T to the gate, just as we do when bringing cattle into a corral.

As shown below, whether it’s one, two, three or more handlers, it’s imperative that they all stay in a straight line behind the animals (i.e., a “driveline” that is 90 degrees to the desired direction of travel), and that each person zigzag behind the animals in front of them.

Emptying a Pen From the Front

A disadvantage of going to the back of the pen is the first thing that happens when we walk into a pen is every animal wants to see us. So, if we go to the back we’re turning them away from the gate because they’re looking at us. Also, when people go in a pen and circle around behind, the animals don’t like that because it’s a predatory behavior.

There are advantages to emptying a pen from the front. As Bud Williams said “I generally work between the cattle and where I want them to go.” Why? Because it obeys our Principles, in particular these three:

• Animals want to see what’s pressuring them.
• They want to see where you want them to go.
• They want to go by you or around you.

So, if we want to have those principles work for us, where should we be? We should be between the animals and the gate. From there we can walk directly into the animals so they split around us and out the gate (this works especially well in a smaller corral with a lot of cattle). We can also work the front and side to start lead animals for the gate which draws the rest.

When we go in and pressure from the front the cattle will see what’s pressuring them, they will see where we want them to go, and they will want to go by us because that’s what they like to do. So, they’re getting to do what they want and they’re doing what we want. It’s a win:win.

There are two other advantages to emptying a pen from the front: (a) We can control the speed of movement from the front with the reverse- and forward-parallel techniques; and (b) we’re in a position to take only the number we want, or count them, or do a health check (neither of which we can do from the back).

Getting Cattle Out of a Corner

If cattle are in a corner but close to the gate, what people usually do is go in behind them and drive them out, but that turns the lead out because the animals want to keep us, the source of pressure, in their eye.

What we should do is pressure the cattle into the corner at a 45 degree angle and back out. We pressure in to create movement, but then we have to back out for two reasons: (1) so we can pressure in again, if necessary, and (2) so we can guide them.

As shown below, when we use the “45” technique to get animals out of a corner they can simultaneously see the source of pressure and where we want them to go, and where they can go get to go by us. In other words, we’re using our principles to advantage to make our idea the animals’ idea.


To make corral work as stress-free as possible on the animals, and hence on us, we need to follow our low-stress livestock handling principles and use good technique. In that way we clearly communicate what we want and they will willingly comply. It’s also important to give them plenty of space, have patience, and think in terms of helping the animals negotiate this bovine obstacle course.

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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.