There are numerous cattle and bison squeeze chutes on the market. Most are good quality and well built. Each has its advantages and disadvantages depending on intended use and size of stock handled.
In most cases, the higher the quality of chute the higher the price. There are some excellent ones manufactured right here in Western Canada so you don’t have too look far. I am seldom asked about what chute I prefer and yet if you think about it veterinarians should be the best authority. They work with all types of chutes on all classes and sizes of livestock. Veterinarians also utilize chutes for all different purposes whether it be preg testing cows or examining a lame bull. In large herds they see chutes being used under intense pressure so they know their downfalls and good points.
There are several key points producers should consider when buying a chute/squeeze system.
1. Make sure if several head adjustments are needed it can be done quickly. There is nothing more frustrating than needing wrenches and other tools to make adjustments. Scissor-type chutes are an advantage here as no adjustments are needed.
2. Head capacity is a key component. Do you need it wide enough for large bulls and yet small enough for young calves? Few have this range, and in my experience, very few can actually hold a mature bull. With the necks of most bulls wider than their heads, hydraulic chutes are the only ones which will consistently hold bulls.
3. Look at the ability of the chute to be set for self-catch and what percentage of cattle will break out. Some have cables or chains, which allow both sides of the head catch to swing simultaneously. These may be prone to breakage. Also watch that the catch mechanism cannot be thrown open by a cow throwing her head. Some older chutes were bad for this, but most new ones have guards to prevent these breakouts.
4. Straight-sided chutes are better for restraining young calves, and cows have less tendency for getting their legs outside the chute (increasing the risk of injury).
5. Is the head gate and squeeze mechanism easy to use and release? Some are not very mechanically advantaged and you will find yourself exhausted after 200 head or needing two people to release the squeeze mechanism.
6. Accessibility to the animal is very important. Try to predict your most common uses with the chute to insure accessibility. Purebred breeders need good access to the underside of bulls for semen testing, and again head capacity will be more critical. Feedlots need good head restraint for implanting, and excellent access to the neck area for vaccinating and other injections. If C-sections or other surgical procedures are done is there good access through the sidebars and can they be removed if necessary? The shoulder restraint device of one chute allows excellent access to the neck area for injections while eliminating forwards and backwards motion.
7. Release mechanisms. Most if not all-new chutes are manufactured with side releases, which allow for sorting and act as an escape for downed animals. Chutes can often be selected for left or right hand release so make sure you select the one most appropriate for your facility.
8. Backdrop gates are probably the least used component of the chute and I see most either in the locked up position, pulled out, or broken. This is because they are heavy and require another arm to run. Some manufacturers have constructed drop gates from aluminum and counter weighted them to make them easier to lift. The best idea I have seen is a sliding blocker gate attached to the back of the chute, which is easy to run and can be locked out of the way if not in use.
9. Proper flooring is critical to reduce slippage. Make sure the construction is preferably steel to prevent rotting and floor bars are well anchored so the livestock can grip them with their claws.
10. Other subtle features include some manual chutes that can be operated from behind the animal. This is convenient because the operator is not in a position to spook the cattle. Some chutes use ropes and pulleys instead of levers to insure nothing is sticking out to injure the operators or passers-by. The jury is still out on the newest option — the sternal bars. I believe for branding and other procedures they may keep cattle standing better. If not needed they can be removed very easily.
11. Price is always a factor. A few models are considerably cheaper because they are constructed with lighter material and intended for small herds. One salesman said these lighter chutes are for hobby producers who can name all their cattle. It is a good point, these lighter chutes are not made for herds of several hundred head.
12. Palpation cages need to be safe with good locking mechanisms and several manufacturers have chutes with cages as one complete unit. This is especially good if moving is necessary several times a year. Making the back door solid will minimize cattle trying to push forward when waiting their turn.
13. All bison chutes are built very strong, with crash gates which are an absolute necessity with bison. If you are looking for a dual-purpose chute for cattle and bison, my only suggestion would be chose a bison chute, but choose one with natural light getting in, as cattle will tend to move through easier.
I cannot stress the importance of asking your veterinarian for his/ her suggestion before purchasing a new or used handling system for your farming operation as they work with all the makes and know the advantages and disadvantages of each. It will be a few minutes very well spent.
RoyLewisisapractisinglargeanimalveterinarian attheWestlockVeterinaryCentre, northofEdmonton.Hismaininterestsare bovinereproductionandherdhealth.