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This section provides a brief description of some of the factors you should consider when you set out to design your bison handling system and corrals.

Bison Facility Design Guide

After you finish this article you may benefit from these resource pages:

The design process can be divided into six steps:

  1. Describe your bison herd
  2. What are your bison corral needs
  3. What are your bison handling needs
  4. Do you have any design or equipment preferences?
  5. What are the conditions of your proposed corral location?
  6. Gather your information and sketch, sketch, sketch

1. Describe your bison herd

  • How many head of bison do you have now?
  • How many head of bison do you plan to have?
  • Describe the sex and size of the bison you intend to process?
  • What is the temperament of your bison?

This information will help you determine the number and size of the corral pens you may require. Unfortunately, there has not been very much research into pen sizes for holding and working bison. A survey of bison feedlots indicates that they allow approximately twice the space they would allow for holding cattle.

Until further data is available you will need to use your best judgement based on your observations and knowledge of the disposition of your bison. For reference you can look at the recommendations for cattle pen sizes and adjust according to your own judgement. Cattle pen sizes can be found on the Cattle Facility Design Guide web page.

2. Your bison corral needs

  • How many times per year will you handle your bison?
  • How many bison do you plan to handle?
  • Do you need to pre-sort your bison?
  • Do you need to post-sort your bison?

The more often you plan to work your bison, the greater the benefit you can gain from investing in safe and efficient bison corrals.

Your gathering pen(s) should have a capacity for holding the number of bison you intend to process. If you will be holding your bison in this pen for extended periods of time, you should ensure your gathering pen(s) provide easy access to feed and water. The longer you plan to hold your bison in a pen, the more space you should provide per animal.

Determine your maximum pre-sorting/post sorting needs.

  • How many animals will you need to sort into pens?
  • How many animals do you want in each sort pen?
  • What weight will these animals be? Larger animals need more space.
  • How many pens do you require?
  • How long will the animals remain in the sort pens? The longer they remain in the pen, the more space per animal you should allow.
  • Will your animals need access to feed and water?

When handling bison, it is best to work with small groups of bison. To minimize bison stress, the handling process should focus on ensuring your bison move through the handling system as quickly as possible, with minimum delays. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the most efficient way to handle bison is to move slowly, quietly and patiently. To achieve this, you are best to work with small groups of bison (3 to 6 head). See the article on bison behavior for more information.

The role of your corrals is to provide a system of pens that allow you to safely and efficiently manage your bison herd. The primary role of your corrals is to separate your bison into smaller groups. You may sort by sex, weight, disposition, or simply into smaller groups for handling.

3. Describe your bison handling needs

  • What procedures do you need to perform?
  • Do you need to weigh your bison?
  • How many people will be on your processing team?
  • How many bison will you be processing in each group?

One of the keys to low stress handling is ensuring your bison are isolated from their herd mates for as little time as possible. To achieve this, ensure you have developed an efficient methodology for performing the procedures you are required to perform. The faster you are able to process the individual bison the less time it will remain isolated, and the less time the other bison will have to wait before being processed. 

If you need to weigh your bison, consider putting your load bars under your squeeze chute. While you can put a control alley chute with load bars behind your squeeze chute, this extra section of alley will isolate your bison for a longer period of time.

The people you have working with you can have a dramatic impact on the efficiency of your processing and the stress level of your bison. To minimize stress, your bison should have a good relationship and familiarity with all of the people helping you process your bison. Additionally, each member of your team should be trained in low stress bison handling and understand the specific role they are going to perform.

Your best bison handler should be in charge of bringing your bison from the pens into your bison alley. Your second-best handler should work the alley leading to the squeeze. If these two handlers have done their jobs well, you will have a much calmer animal coming into your bison chute.

The number of animals you are bringing through the handling system in each cycle will determine the size of your lead-up alley. The purpose of a bison lead-up alley is to provide an alley that is wide enough for your bison to turn around, and long enough that you can fit more than one bison in each alley section. When bison can move freely, and they are with their herd mates, they are calmer.

Note: If you try to stuff lots of bison into your alley you will only be contributing to their stress as the additional animals will need to wait in the alley for a longer period of time before they are processed. You are extending the length of time your bison will be under stress.

When the squeeze chute is empty the bison in the group alley are given an opportunity to move forward, through the funnel alley section, into the squeeze chute.

You may have several more people working around your bison chute. You may have a chute operator, A vet/treatment person, and perhaps a note taker. If this group is well coordinated, they can process each animal quickly and quietly with a minimum of stress.

Lastly, if you are sorting bison after they have been through your squeeze chute, you may need someone operating the sorting gates.

If you attempt to rush your bison they can become highly stressed. This will slow down your handling process this time and every time you handle the same animal going forward. Additionally, if one animal becomes stressed, those bison that are near it also become more stressed. This is why patience is a big part of handling bison. When you open the tailgate for the bison squeeze chute, be patient, give the bison time to enter the chute on its own.

4. Describe your bison equipment preferences

  • Do you have any corral features you would like to see in your facility?
  • Do you want permanent or portable bison corrals?

You have likely seen and worked with other bison corrals and handling equipment. Your experience with this equipment may impact what you want and don’t want in your future corrals.

Permanent facilities require posts to be set securely in the ground. Your Hi-Hog bison gates can then be hung on these posts. Bison equipment is heavy, so your posts will need to be appropriately anchored so they won't fail when pressure is applied. A permanent facility tends to be a little quieter and have less visual obstructions (no overhead frames to support the gates)

Portable facilities are built with gates-set-in-frames, as well as overhead alley spreaders. When building portable pens, it is important to design the pens so that the lines of panels and gates are supported by the geometry of the corrals.


5. Describe your corral site

  • Do you have issues with wet ground conditions? Poor ground conditions will cause your bison to hesitate and put them at higher risk of injury.
  • Do you have features on your site that you need access to?
  • Do you have features on your site that need to be avoided?
  • Is there a slope to your site? Bison are more comfortable going uphill then they are going downhill.
  • Are your livestock entering your corrals from a particular pasture or through a particular gate?
  • Do you need to locate your bison squeeze chute in any particular location? For example, to be near medical supplies, or electrical power.
  • Is there a particular area that would be best for load-in/load-out?
  • Which way is North? Where will the sun be when you are handling your bison (you want to avoid having your bison chute facing into the sun)


6. Review and Sketch

Once you have reviewed all of the above information you can start to develop your corrals. Take your time and be critical of your sketch. It is much easier to fix a sketch than it is to fix your bison facilities after you have built them.

When you are laying out your corrals, your primary focus will be on ensuring your bison will want to travel through your facilities the same way you want them to travel. 

Once you have designed your corrals for your bison, take time to add gates, and panels-with-man-gates into your design, so your handlers have safe, and efficient access to your corrals. No one wants to be climbing panels all day.

Design Assistance

If you don't have all the answers, don't worry. Our friendly and patient design professionals have been helping ranchers since 1974. Their only goal is to develop a solution that meets your needs. This is a free service.

Before you contact Hi-Hog you may also wish to look at Hi-Hog's sample bison corrals to see if there are any existing sample plans that are close to what you are looking for. These will give our designers a good start on your design.

After you finish this article you may benefit from these resource pages: