Design of loading facilities and holding pens


T. Grandin, Animal Science Department, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado U.S.A.


Holding pens and loading facilities are used in abattoirs, saleyards, stockyards, and sorting facilities.

  • Long, narrow pens are recommended where animals enter through one end and leave through the other.
  • Constructing the pens on a 60 – 80 degree angle eliminates sharp 90 degree corners.
  • Flooring in holding pens should be non-slip.
  • Indoor housing pens should have even, diffuse lighting that minimizes shadows. Cattle, pigs, and sheep have a tendency to move more easily from a dimly illuminated area to a more brightly illuminated area.
  • Facilities should be designed to minimize excessive noise.

In large facilities more than one unloading ramp may be required to facilitate prompt unloading. During warm weather, prompt unloading is essential because heat rapidly builds up in a stationary vehicle. Ideally, holding pens should be built at truck height to eliminate ramps.


  • The maximum recommended angle for adjustable ramps for cattle, pigs, and sheep is 25 degrees.
  • 20 degrees is the maximum recommended angle for non-adjustable ramps.
  • For pigs 15 degrees is recommended.
  • Ramps should have a level dock at the top equal to one animal body length.
  • Stairsteps are recommended on concrete ramps recommended dimensions are:
  • 30cm minimum tread width and a 10cm rise for cattle
  • 25cm tread width and 5cm rise for slaughter weight pigs

Both loading and unloading ramps should have solid fences. The crowd pen that leads to the ramp should also have solid sides and it must never be placed on a ramp.


Crowd pens must be level.
Single file, curved ramps with solid fenced are very efficient for loading cattle onto trucks. Ramps used for unloading only should be 2.5 to 3m wide to provide animals with a clear exit off the vehicle.

In Denmark and other Scandinavian countries trucks used for transporting pigs are equipped with a hydraulic tailgate lift.

Well designed holding pens and loading ramps can help reduce bruises and stress.