I’ve had the good fortune over the years of working with progressive producers and have seen their usage of hydraulic chutes increase. There are several key advantages with these chutes that help them pay for themselves quicker than you might imagine.
Labour can be a major expense in larger cow-calf, bison and feedlot operations, but also just the availability of help can be your limiting component. Hydraulic chutes cut down labour for several reasons. They can be opened wider so almost regardless of the situation cattle flow through them easier with less prodding and poking (animal-rights people should like this).
Because the squeezing and catch mechanism is so fast the operator can often perform other tasks such as vaccinating or implanting as well. Since the squeezes are so easy to run, I as a veterinarian, have on occasion run them when preg checking or semen evaluating (I can pull the levers with my one clean arm). All this and the operator can work all day and not get as tired, and they can be operated by even the smallest or youngest crew member.
Speed is also greatly enh-anced for several reasons. The quicksqueezingminimizes any struggling you get with manual chutes. The pressure should be set to between 600 and 800 pounds in order to get the desired restraint with little risk of injury. With many procedures such as vaccinating or pregnancy checking, restraint is secure enough so heads don’t even have to be caught. This alone speeds things up and there is NO chance an animal will be missed. Release is also so much quicker and because the front is wide open, cattle move forward and don’t back up. All these seemingly trivial things add up to a lot of time saved at the end of the day. Generally the controls are now put on swing bars to enable them to be run from the back of the chute. By placing controls lower, fatigue on your arms is also greatly reduced. Controls near the back of the chute do not cause cattle to balk like they do when running the chute near the head gate.
It is very important to have side releases on the chutes in case cattle go down and become wedged in. The newer ones also have spring releases on the entire front of the chute. This allows five to six centimetres of give when livestock hit them too fast, greatly minimizing shoulder injuries.
I am thoroughly convinced that besides all of the above great benefits a hydraulic chute will pay for itself time and again with all the stress it saves on your stock. These are sometimes intangibles such as slightly better weight gains and cattle being subject to fewer injuries and less bruising. I know there is far less flailing around or slipping and going down with hydraulic chutes. By controlling the back gate hydraulically far less piling up occurs, too. This also minimizes injury as well as speeding up the process.
When cattle are held more securely, far fewer implants are improperly placed and vaccines, especially subcutaneous shots, are properly administered. If intramuscular shots are given, the neck area is much more accessible. Endectocides (pour on), which we all pay good money for, can be evenly spread over the back. All these benefits over time help the increased price of the chute pay for itself.
By running power steering oil or diluting the hydraulic oil 50/50 with kerosene, viscosity is low and even on cold winter days the hydraulic oil will flow. Most people insulate the pump to prevent problems in winter and it also acts as a sound barrier. Those who use the chute only a few times a year may have the hydraulics run off the pump in your tractor. A lot of the bison producers do it this way saving the cost of the pump or avoiding the need to have power brought to the site.
Most good manual chutes today cost half to two-thirds that of a hydraulic chute so really the cost difference is not huge when considering the years of use it will provide. Once installed it is easy to then have other hydraulic cylinders run sorting gates or scissor gates in the lead-up alley. This again saves labour and speeds up the whole process.
My rule of thumb is anyone in the 250-head plus range for cows would be wise to consider a hydraulic chute to make their life easier. With more intensive management these days, especially on purebred operations, a hydraulic chute can be of particular value when a synchronization programs with timed breeding, requires the cattle be brought through more times in a year. Hydraulic chutes allow you to accomplish these tasks without even working up a sweat so you won’t hesitate doing them in a timely manner.
Nearly all makers of manual chutes now have hydraulic ones and Morand Industries is just releasing their hydraulic chute. Other companies such as Hi-Hog and Stampede Steel hydraulic chutes have been around for a few years. As with good manual chutes, each hydraulic chute has different features which need to be considered so take a good look at all of them or consult your veterinarian as to their preferences. The cattle market is up now so when you are upgrading your handling system consider a hydraulic chute. The resale value of your old manual one will still be good or it could be relocated for occasional use in a pasture. †