The Square(ish) Round Pen

I was a pretty good student throughout school, but I detested math. It did not come as easily to me as other subjects, and it just wasn’t fun. I remember my geometry teacher in 8th or 9th grade as being a really likable guy, I know I passed the class, but I really can’t remember much about the content. Same for algebra. When would this ever impact my life? Just another example of God’s sense of humor I suppose.

I bought a used round pen in late 2017 or so to use mainly with the colt I had also just bought. It was made of some heavy metal and fairly rusted though in places, but functioned as it should. There was always the plan to build or buy a bigger ring, but no real rush. Until we decided to get cows.

This works. This is fine. Everything is fine.

When we started with cows, it didn’t seem like a big deal to add a small alley and a headgate off the round pen. Simple and effective. Assuming your cows are halter broke. Unfortunately, our cows are not halter broke but would rather you maintain at least 5 to 50 feet of personal space (and that was pre-COVID). This round pen to head gate scenario required a few monumental tasks. 1) cows INTO round pen. 2) Keeping cows in round pen while waiting on vets/breeders. 3) Cows into alley/headgate. Since the round pen was just tossed lackadaisically into the pasture, simply moving animals into the pen was a chore some days. Not nearly so tricky of a situation as keeping them there though. By them, I mean one specific cow. She twice put her head under the panels and picked up the round pen to walk out from under it. The first time, she also went through 5 strands of barbed wire to avoid recapture/reunite with her calf. That first time, I wasn’t even mad. Quite impressive really when you think one panel is well north of 50lbs and there were quite a few all inner connected. However, then it stops being cute. Also, running cows from a 35’ or so circle into a 4’ gate opening to the headgate alley was a bit challenging/impossible without profanity. So this summer, now that our herd is growing and finding ourselves with more free time, we constructed a (hopefully) proper cattle working system.

First priority was a functioning sweep system and alley to push cows into the headgate to safely work with them. Sweep systems come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. Having shopped about and not being impressed with the commercially available models from Tractor Supply and not wanting to spend the small fortune to purchase from Southern States a different brand, we ended up driving to Athens Alabama and visited the guys at C&B Farm + Outdoors for a 90* sweep tub. This is no run of the mill gate tube metal, but quite stout stuff that should stand up to some abuse. The only downside is there needs to be fairly level ground beneath the sweep system to work properly and all of the joints to line up. So we ended up moving our entire system about 50ft from the original planned location to accommodate, but it ended up working out better in the long run I think.

As we went, each post was a screwed to the one beside it that had cured. Quick set concrete certainly came in handy!

Next came the alleys to connect to the sweep. Having learned from some past mistakes, my husband suggested a moving system to push the cows through that gradually narrowed. Now, here is where that oh so important math really came into play. How to make sure that the pen is truly square to itself, with equidistant sides, 90* corners, the works. Brownie points if it is square to the fence line too. Enter Pythagoras and his famous theorem. We hadn’t got far into running lines and setting posts when we (husband) hit upon the notion that this would be a challenge. Me, I would’ve run the posts and only sorted out the issue on the last two or when I went to hang a gate. Apparently he did better in math than I. Having finally found a use for our now ancient geometry classes, we calculated and measured and set string lines accordingly.

Here you can see the start of our second 10’ wide alley. The second alley was really to accommodate a tree, but it worked out great.

So, our main holding area is 40’x40’ with a 8’ gate into a smaller, 10’ alley that makes a 90* turn to another 10’ alley ending in a sweep tub. We also added in a 10×10 holding pen at the suggestion of our vet for calves if we dont need them pushed though the sweep tub or crushed by bigger moos. Also, 40×40 is perfect for working horses. Isn’t that just so convenient?

I mean, you can see the fence in the background, but really, the important things here are front and center.

Of equally great importance was funneling the cows into the round pen. And when I say cows, I specifically mean our two adult brood cows. The babies we have raised here so far are super gentle and have no objection to going wherever there is a feed pan. So, we’re planning for the worst and hoping to breed less crazy. So, to corral the cows into a smaller space from the large pastures into a workable space, we added two sections of fence that create a smaller area that we can move them down the fence line and into the round pen. In theory.

Having already been impressed with the brute strength of angry cows, we opted for 3ft deep holes (hellooooo tractor auger), 6x6x8 posts, and 2×6 railings with support braces. All said and done, this is within 2 inches of square.

We started drilling holes for the round pen in May. It is now October, and I am wrapping up the top coat of paint. One day, I will be able to use this for working horses, handling cows, and maybe just admiring. But for now, we paint.


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