With All Due Restraint: How To Restrain Livestock

When you keep livestock, it's sometimes necessary to restrain animals to administer care. Learn about some of the common pieces of equipment for safe restraint.

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by Anna O'BrienJuly 7, 2022
PHOTO: Clare Seibel-Barnes/Shutterstock

As novice hobby farmers gain experience with hooved livestock, they quickly realize that some things are easier said than done.

For example, say your steer has an infection and your veterinarian has prescribed antibiotics. Via injection. In the shoulder. Of a 650-pound (and growing) animal.

Sounds easy, right?

If you have the right equipment to restrain your livestock, it should be. Here’s some information on what you may need to restrain your livestock for safe handling.

Cattle

Many small farms lack the space or facilities for large bovine handling equipment. So let’s start with the simple stuff.

Halter

A halter is the most basic of equipment for handling many types of livestock, including cattle, sheep and goats, and horses. There are even special camelid halters for llamas and alpacas. Their small, angular faces don’t fit the “average” livestock halters.

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A halter allows you some control of the animal’s head. But it is only as good as the animal trained to it. Most cattle (4-H animals and pets excluded) are not halter-trained. So you cannot assume this will be the only piece of equipment needed. It’s simply the first step.

Head Gate

Second to a halter (and lead rope), a head gate is a huge help when treating cattle.

Head gates range in expense and style. Hydraulic gates can come with super-duper body-squeeze chutes that contain the entire animal. A home-made device, on the other hand, could just be made with metal poles that you manually close. (You’ll find a range of DIY head gate instructions available online.)

What you choose will depend on your budget and needs. But either style or something in between will work.

The benefit of a head gate with cattle is that it safely and comfortably restrains the animal at the neck. This prevents him or her from moving forward or backward. If the animal has horns, a head gate can also help protect you from getting hooked but it’s not fool-proof. The animal will still be able to move from side to side.

Squeeze Chute

A step up from a head gate is a squeeze chute. This prevents not only front-and-back motion, but also side-to-side movement. A quality chute is the safest method to restrain cattle, but it can be expensive and take up considerable space.

Understanding your budget and space availability will help you narrow down your choices. Remember that you not only need space for the chute, but also space behind it to herd the cattle into the chute. This should ideally be a small pen that funnels down into the chute.


Read more: Build your own DIY cattle corral with these plans from Temple Grandin.


Small Ruminants

Luckily, as smaller livestock, sheep and goats don’t need quite the amount of muscle or machinery to restrain. Typically, a rope halter and lead rope is enough to handle these animals with the key pointer in mind: keep their noses up. If they are able to put their heads down, they will be able to leverage against you and pull away.

When restraining a sheep or goat for any procedure such as injections or hoof trims, it’s best to have a second pair of hands to help. If one person is focused on holding the animal, the other can focus on getting the job done.

There are also sheep and goat stands for more specialized procedures like shearing and grooming as well as stands for hand milking. These stands keep the animal’s head up in a cradle, which allows the handler two free hands with which to work.

Horses

Most horses are halter broke. A halter and lead line are all you need for simple veterinary procedures and the farrier. A horse that will not stand reasonably with a halter may need additional professional training.

Additionally, some procedures, such as reproductive examinations, may require use of stocks for safety to both horse and owner/veterinarian. However, horse stocks are usually only on the premises of large equine hospitals or large equine farms.


Read more: Loading pigs? These 4 tips will help you get hogs into the trailer.


Swine

What about pigs? There’s no such thing as a halter for swine (but there are harnesses for mini pigs!). But you can find a device called a hog snare, used when a pig needs to be restrained for simple veterinary procedures.

This is quite literally a snare—usually made of thick rope or wire—connected to a pole. The snare is fitted over the upper part of the pig’s snout. When snared, a pig will pull back, making the snare tight. The pig will vocalize during the use of the snare, and this device is used only for short procedures such as injections or a blood draw.

When you need to restrain and work with any animal, be aware of the stress level of your livestock. Particularly in the summer, animals can become overheated when worked. For this reason, it is best practice to do treatments or other husbandry chores either early or later in the day and in the shade (or indoors with a fan) to reduce heat stress.

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