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Bud Box

Designed to work with, rather than against, cattle, this crowd pen philosophy hinges on good stockmanship.

Bowie, TX, stockman Bud Williams says he hopes to live long enough to see his animal-handling brainstorm put to use in every U.S. feedlot and ranch. At 76 years of age, Williams probably won't see his dreams of a “Bud Box” in every set of working pens, but plenty of folks are becoming converts.

“The people that put them in, I don't think you could pay them to take it out,” Williams says.

Williams' development could be described as a rectangular version of a crowding tub, but it's more than the shape that makes it different.

“Most corrals are designed to work against what an animal naturally wants to do,” Williams says. “I want to use their natural instinct to work for me.”

To effectively use the Bud Box, Williams says users need a different mind-set because his design takes advantage of two instinctive cattle behaviors:

  • When blocked, cattle want to return from where they came.

  • Animals prefer to go around something they feel pressure from.

Cattle handlers need to understand this latter concept and not push cattle from behind, Williams says. Instead, handlers can work from outside or inside the pen to apply light pressure from near the exit.

Williams suggests the rectangular-designed crowd pen be built 14-ft. wide and 30-ft. long for loading a truck, or 20-ft. long when loading a squeeze chute. “Any wider than that, the person working it will get out too far in the pen and cause it not to work. The size of the pen is more for the person working it to make sure they do it right than it is for the animals.”

On a working ranch

The closing gate in the crowd pen should be solid and the sides open. “Only the gate needs to be solid; the rest works better if it's more open,” Williams says, because it allows cattle to see what's going on around them.

It's also important to avoid overcrowding; don't fill the Bud Box more than half-full. “If you fill it more than half-full, when a person steps in or works from the outside, it's too much pressure, and the cattle feel too confined. That's when problems start,” he says. Also, don't put more animals in the crowd pen than can fit in lead-up alleys to the chute or truck.

After attending a Williams stockmanship seminar, Donnell Brown decided to install a Bud Box in 2000 at his family's R.A. Brown Ranch in Throckmorton, TX.

“It works absolutely, hands-down, positively better than any setup I've ever used,” Brown says. Whether working baby calves, yearlings, cows or herd bulls, “we realized we could get more done with fewer people in less time with less stress on the cattle, people and facilities,” he says.

Brown's biggest concern was if his long-term employees, some with 40-plus years experience using traditional funnel shape or circular crowd pens, would embrace the Bud Box. They have, and are among the first to sing its praises and prefer using it.

“Just like anything new, it takes a little bit of practice to get good at it,” Brown says. “And if your cattle have been handled a certain way their whole life, it's going to take time for them to transition into responding differently to you.”

Training cattle to respond differently is a process the Browns put into place at weaning, teaching cattle to respond to pressure just like they would train a horse. In training, it's important to remember cattle's pivot-point is the shoulder.

Not for amateurs

“If I'm in front of the shoulder, cattle turn around and go the other direction; if I'm behind the shoulder, it forces cattle to go forward,” Brown says. He doesn't fill the Bud Box until the last cow is in the chute and avoids holding cattle in alleys leading up to the crowd pen.

“An alley is like a stream: it's for flowing. When it stops flowing, it gets stagnant and doesn't move well,” Brown says.

Animal-handling guru Temple Grandin acknowledges the Bud Box works, but doesn't promote it over worker-safety concerns because the handler is generally in the crowd pen with the cattle.

“It's not for amateurs. If you don't know what you're doing, you're going to get hurt,” she says.

She estimates that only 20% of industry workers have the instincts and emotions to be good stock people — people who have no trouble operating a Bud Box. Her designs, she says, are made for the other 80% of the industry, specifically feedyards and meat-packing plants where employee turnover is high.

“If you have lots of employee turnover and lots of different people will be using this, and they're not trained, then it's going to be a problem,” Grandin says. She says a Bud Box is ideal in a ranch setting where only one or two trained people are using it and there are fewer distractions for cattle.

“If you don't have Bud's philosophy for working cattle, then you'd better not have a Bud Box,” Grandin says. Both Grandin's design and the Bud Box work on the same principle: cattle want to return to where they came from.

How it works:

Safety is less of an issue with a Bud Box, Grandin says, if the cattle handler can remain outside of the crowd pen and work animals with a flag, or from a catwalk along side of it. She's even seen feedyards use a horse and rider within the crowd pen.

More on low-stress handling

Though Grandin's and Williams' designs differ, both have a common goal: low-stress cattle handling.

Processing-barn experience

  • Set ahead of a loading chute or squeeze chute, the Bud Box runs perpendicular to the race (alley) leading to the chute or load out.

  • Cattle are driven past the opening of the race, and the solid gate is shut behind them, preventing cattle from seeing from whence they came.

  • By waiting a few seconds for the cattle to settle down, and applying pressure from the side of the Bud Box toward where you want them to go, the cattle will circle back toward the solid gate (the way they came). Once they get to the solid gate, the cattle seek an escape route, which is the opening into the chute.

Auction market load-outs

Researchers at North Dakota State University's Carrington Research Extension Center (CREC) in Carrington, ND, renovated their cattle-handling facilities in 2008 to include a Bud Box. The original system had basic design flaws such as spring-loaded backstops and dark lighting that made cattle balk.

“We couldn't keep the cattle coming in fast enough to utilize our new Silencer chute to its full potential,” says Dale Burr, CREC livestock technician. So they widened the barn entrance, built an alleyway and used a Bud Box design connected to a double alleyway to the new chute.

Upon witnessing a demonstration, spectators are often in disbelief. “It's too simple. I think you could buy some panels and build a Bud Box. You don't need a lot of expensive equipment to make it work,” Burr says, noting it can work off of a single or double alley.

CREC conducts several feedlot and cow-calf trials each year, many simultaneously. As such, each animal on trial must be individually weighed every 28 days. The new facility has made the process less labor-intensive.

“It's a lot less stress, both for the people and the cattle,” Burr says. It's also faster. “We've actually eliminated the need for one person in weighing and working cattle.”

Based on their experience, CREC staff members suggest producers consider lighting and surface finishing in processing areas.

“We have lights over the center of the alley, so shadows are minimized — nothing to cause cattle to slow down,” Burr says, noting producers can position chutes and alleys under skylights in building's ridge caps. To avoid slippage, CREC cautions against smooth concrete, which can cause falls when wet.

After 10 years of researching load-out systems, Larry Schnell, Stockmen's Livestock Exchange general manager in Dickinson, ND, put in two Bud Boxes. He likes the Bud Box's simplicity.

“The best thing is that you can change an existing setup to fit this system with very little effort,” Schnell says. After working 70,000 head of cattle, he says he's ready to add another Bud Box for the veterinary shack.

When working a near-full pen, Schnell positions himself to get a few animals started toward the alley and controls the flow with his positioning.

“You don't want them to come in a big lump; you want them one at a time,” Schnell explains. “Once one starts moving, the rest will come pretty much single file.”

The biggest trouble Schnell has with the system is trying to teach truckers not to push cattle from behind. He says they're slow to adjust to the concept; in fact, he says he may need to put up a sign that reads, “Just keep in mind that the whole premise of this loading chute is that truckers are smarter than cattle; please don't prove us wrong.” (See Associated Figure.)

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