Handling facilities

Every farm that handles cattle should have proper handling facilities which are well designed, maintained and in good working order. This is not only important for the welfare of the animals which are due to be handled but also for the safety of everybody associated with the task.

Design principles

The location should be in close proximity to the cattle's visual route to and from the milking parlour. Although the crush and race are only used intermittently it will then become a familiar sight.

The facilities must make the most of existing features and be flexible in use. The design should take into account the number and type of animals to be handled and the type of treatments to be carried out. Sometimes, a portable system will be most appropriate, particularly when cattle are grazing far away from the farm, or where there are a number of buildings. However, more often permanent cattle handling facilities will be necessary and should be planned carefully in terms of location, space allowance and construction.

There are a number of key requirements for any cattle handling facility. It must take into account the numbers and type of animals which are due to be handled and be flexible enough to accommodate the wide range of tasks required on a modern dairy farm. Generally, a handling facility will consist of a holding pen, a forcing area, a race, crush and a dispersal pen. Additionally, insemination facilities are often required.

The handling facility must:

  • Be well lit
  • Have non-slip surfaces
  • Avoid tight turns
  • Avoid projections such as hurdles, posts and hinges which could damage stock or staff

The holding pen

The handling facility must be large enough to hold the largest group of animals required for handling as a batch and leads directly into the forcing pen and race.

Each cow requires around 1.8m2 of space within the holding pen.

It is important to recognise that some areas of the holding pen will not be as well utilised as other areas and so calculating stocking rates needs to reflect this. If the cows to be handled are originating from separate groups, it may be necessary to have the ability to subdivide the holding pen.

The holding pen should lead into the race. Animals should be encouraged to leave the holding pen, avoiding any tight corners which restrict cow flow.

The race

The race should hold the animals in single file and should be around 680-760mm internal width, depending on the size of the largest animals in the herd. The sides of the race should be around 1.5m high.  


The footbath should be sited on the exit route from the parlour (but not so close as to impinge on free cow flow). Double footbaths are usually considered better because they allow dirt, etc. to be washed off prior to treatment. The first bath also tends to activate the dunging reflex which means that the second (treatment) bath remains active for longer.

Permanent footbaths which do not involve setting up temporary gates are more likely to be used on a regular basis.

Emptying and filling footbaths must be quick and easy. Drains in baths should not be less than 100mm internal diameter while 150mm is considered ideal.

Cows should take 3-4 steps in the bath which should take between 6-9 seconds. To achieve this, the footbath needs to be 3.0-4.0m long. If cows are walking briskly, only around 60% of cows will achieve four steps in a 3.0m long bath. Similarly, with a two part footbath each section, should be at least 3m long, separated by a raised strip of around 2.0m.