Using Animals "Follow the Leader" Instinct to Improve Handling of Cattle and Pigs

Updated January 2011

Cattle and pigs will follow the leader, and handlers need to take advantage of this natural behaviour to move animals easily. Animals will move more easily into the single file chute (race) if it is allowed to become partially empty before attempting to fill it. A partially empty chute provides room to take advantage of following behaviour. Handlers are often reluctant to do this because they are afraid they will run out of animals. Once a handler learns to use this method, he will find that keeping up with the line in a slaughter plant or the squeeze chute in a large ranch or feedlot will be much easier. As animals enter the crowd pen they will move right up the chute.

Never fill the crowd pen more than 1/2 full.

One of the most common mistakes is overloading the crowd pen that leads up to the single file race. A good basic principle is to fill the crowd pen half full. Cattle and pigs need room to turn. The crowd pen works best when it is used as a "pass through" pen and the animals immediately enter the single file race.

This picture illustrates the correct number of animals in a crowd pen.

Handlers must also be careful not to push the crowd gate up too tightly. Animals need room to turn. The crowd gate should be used to follow the animals and should never be used to forcibly push them. The handler should concentrate on moving the leaders into the chute instead of pushing animals at the rear of the group. Great care should be used with mechanical powered crowd gates. Fully automated systems tend to over crowd animals. Powered gates must never knock animals over or push a downed animal along the floor. All automated gates should have manual controls that can be used by the handlers to stop movement of the gate.

One-way or sliding gates at the entrance to the single file chute must be open when livestock are brought into the crowd pen. Cattle will balk at a closed gate. One-way flapper gates can be equipped with a rope to open them by remote control from the crowd pen.

This will prevent livestock from balking at the closed gate in the race.

Cattle walk calmly up the races and the handlers only use plastic ribbons to move the animals. The stick with the ribbons is used to turn and guide the animals by placing it along side the animal's head. Cattle move most easily when small bunches are put in the crowd pen as shown here. The animals need room to turn. Most cattle will move easily and the crowd gate does NOT have to be pushed up against them. The crowd gate should only be used on stubborn animals. If the cattle refuse to enter the single file chute, they may be seeing people or other moving objects up ahead. In the photo the man with the dark shirt is standing back away from the chute so that approaching cattle do not see him. People should remain quiet and all yelling and arm waving must be stopped. The stick with the ribbons must not be waved hard.


Grandin, T. (2007) Livestock Handling and Transport. CABI Publishing. Wallingford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.

Grandin, T. and Deesing M. (2008). Humane Livestock Handling. Storey Publishing. North Adams, MA, USA.

Click here to return to the Homepage for more information on animal behavior, welfare, and care.