When you are looking for a cattle squeeze chute there are plenty of choices. Most offer good quality and are well built. Each has unique advantages and disadvantages depending on its intended use and the size of the stock to be handled. Generally speaking, the higher the quality of the chute the higher the price. Some excellent ones are manufactured right here in Western Canada so one doesn t have to 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 with all classes and sizes of livestock. Veterinarians also utilize chutes for every type of chore whether it be preg testing cows or examining lame bulls. In large herds they see chutes pushed to their limits, so they know their downfalls and good points.
I would consider several key points when making a decision on which chute to purchase.
If you regularly run a mix of cattle where numerous head adjustments have to be made make sure these can be accomplished quickly. There is nothing more frustrating than having to pull out the wrenches every time you want to make a change. Scissor-type chutes have an advantage in this regard as no adjustments are necessary.
Head capacity is another key component. Do you need it wide enough for large bulls yet small enough for young calves? Few chutes have this range. In fact, in my experience only systems with a hydraulic head gate can manage it consistently.
The other thing to notice about the head gate is whether it can be set to self-catch and what percentage of cattle will break out. Some models have cables or chains, which allow both sides of the head catch to swing simultaneously. These may be prone to breaking. Also watch to see if the catch mechanism can be forced open by a cow throwing her head. Some older chutes were bad for that but most of the new ones have guards to prevent these breakouts.
Straight-sided chutes are better for restraining young calves and cows are less likely to get their legs outside the chute (increasing the risk of injury) when the sides are straight.
Is the head gate and squeeze mechanism easy to use, and release? Some aren t and after putting through 200 head with one of these you will find yourself exhausted and maybe needing a helper to release the squeeze mechanism.
Accessibility to the animal is another important feature. Try to predict your most common uses with the chute to ensure accessibility. Purebred breeders need access to the underside of bulls for semen testing and head capacity will also be a critical rquirement. Feedlots need very good head restraint for implanting and access to the neck for vaccinating and other injections. C-sections or other surgical procedures require good access through the sidebars and preferably sides that can be removed if necessary.
Most if not all new chutes are manufactured with side releases. These allow for sorting and provide a quick 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.
Backdrop gates are probably the least used component in the chute. I see most of them either in the locked up position, pulled out or broken. This is because they are heavy and require another arm to operate. Some manufacturers have constructed drop gates out of aluminum and counterweighted them to make it easier to use them. 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 when its not needed.
Flooring is critical to control slippage. Steel construction is preferable to prevent rotting and make sure the floor bars are well anchored so the animals can grip them with their claws.
Some manual chutes can be run from the back. This is a nice feature because the operator is not in a position to spook the cattle.
Some rigs use ropes and pulleys instead of levers to insure nothing is sticking out to injure the operator or passers-by.
The jury is still out on the newest option, the sternal bars. For branding, etc they seem to help by keeping the cattle up. Besides, if they aren t needed they are easily removed.
Generally speaking, the higher the price, the better the quality or the more options are available. A few models are considerably cheaper because they are constructed with lighter material and intended for small herds. One salesman told me these lighter chutes are for hobby-type producers who can name all their cattle. Certainly these lighter chutes are not made for herds with several hundred head.
Palpation cages need to be safe, meaning they should be sturdy with a good locking mechanism. Several manufacturers sell chutes with cages as one complete unit. This is especially good if the unit has to be moved around a lot. Making the back door solid will minimize cattle trying to push forward when waiting their turn.
All bison manufactured chutes are built to be strong and crash gates are an absolute necessity with bison. If you are looking for a dual-purpose chute my only suggestion would be buy a bison chute but choose one that allows natural light in, as cattle will tend to move through it more easily.
I cannot stress too much the importance of asking your veterinarian for some suggestions before purchasing a new or used handling system for your operation. They work with all makes and models and have learned first-hand the advantages and disadvantages of each. It will be a few minutes very well spent.