Backing gate


3 min read

How to use backing gates Design options Attachments to the gate Other suggestions

Backing gates are tools used in the dairy yard to improve cow flow into the dairy, leading to more efficient milking. This page offers detailed guidance on how to use and design backing gates. It emphasises the importance of moving the gate little and often, not using it to push cows, and checking for any faults or issues in the milking area. Different design options are explained, including recommendations on gate movement speed and length. Attachments like a Dung Buster can assist in yard cleaning, and additional suggestions are provided to ensure correct and humane usage.

If a backing gate is well designed and used correctly it can help to improve cow flow into the dairy. This will result in more efficient milking and milkers will have no need to go into the yard to bring cows in.

How to use backing gates

  • Movement of the gate little and often is best.
  • Backing gates are not intended to push cows into the dairy – they are intended to take up empty space in the yard.
  • If milkers are regularly entering the yard, check to see if there are issues in the milking area which may be causing cows discomfort.
  • Faults in dairy design and in backing gate control cause most backing gate problems.
  • Install backing gates so operators can see them – a mirror to see how tightly cows are packed in is useful.

Design options

There are many different gate designs. When selecting a gate design, function and cost should all be considered.

Dual backing gates for managing multiple mobs in a round yard

High-lift backing gate for rectangular yard

How fast should the gate move?

Whenever the gate is being used to shift cows forward it should be moved very slowly (0.5m/5sec in a rectangular yard, 1m/5sec in a circular yard) to avoid stressing cows.

This becomes even more important as the gate length in a round yard increases. The gate can be moving quite quickly at the edge of the circle, yet the cows at the centre of the yard barely move, making continual mixing/moving of cows past each other a potential problem.

There is a tendency for cows on the edge of the circle to jam up against the fence, in herringbone fashion, as they gaze across the surrounding countryside.

Find out how quickly your gate moves:

  • When the yard is empty pick a spot where you can easily observe a 0.5-1m movement of the backing/top gate.
  • Take your measurements from the outside of the yard.
  • Record how long the backing gate takes to move that distance.

How long should the gate be?

There is no specific limit as to gate length although the following points apply:

  • As lengths increase there will be more cows in front of the gate and it becomes harder to move and less efficient. As the gate becomes longer, shifting the gate ‘little and often’ is much more critical.
  • Rectangular yards:
    • a yard width of 12m is common and gates work well if they move up a group of cows about 30m long in a sweep. If gates become longer than 12m it becomes heavier and more expensive to construct.
    • All gates on rectangular yards benefit by having the drive systems made to drive all four wheels, however this becomes more important as the gate length increases.
  • Circular yards:
    • Recommended maximum length is: 12m for a herringbone, 15m for rotary.

Attachments to the gate

Scraping the yard surface with backing gate attachments, such as a Dung Buster, will reduce the volume of water required to break up and remove manure. Simple backing gate attachments can be made from rubber or wood and chains. See more detail on yard cleaning.

Other suggestions

  • Make information on the correct use of the backing gate readily available. Consider waterproofing the backing gate routine and attaching it to the wall near the backing gate controls.
  • Never tie a dog to a backing gate, they should always be tied up away from the dairy yard.
  • If cows’ heads are raised in the yard, they are too crowded. This may be due to inappropriate use of the backing gate or a yard that is too small. Check how the backing gate is being used.
  • Automate the backing gate switch to remove operator error e.g. use a timer on the switch which restricts each forward movement to 5 seconds.
  • Install a buzzer that sounds when the backing gate is operating.

Cows correctly held in a yard. This allows them to keep their heads down without forced interactions and they can move into their milking order.

Cows too tight in a yard. This will lead to stress, bullying and lameness.

Last updated: Sep 2023

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