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What makes a cattle chute good?

Hint: Safety for you and the cattle must come first. Other niceties are second in line.

Jake Geis, DVM

February 27, 2020

4 Min Read
Men working cattle in hydraulic chute
Author says to look at safety first when shopping cattle chutes.Burt Rutherford

After my blog from last month regarding how much cattle facility a person may need, I received a follow-up question that was more specific in regard to cattle chutes. The person asking the question was at a loss due to the number of options for cattle chutes and wanted to know what aspects in particular were necessary, what were beneficial and what were detrimental.

It seems like a simple question but is actually a bit muddy, because there are trade-offs with the many features a person can find on a chute. But at the core of all these options the most important aspect is safety for the cattle and the operator.

Safety for cattle

Since there are many types of chutes available and many readers of this article will consider purchasing used chutes as well, the first step is to look for features that are unsafe. These chutes should be repurposed as boat anchors rather than have another cow touch them. For the safety of the cattle, stay away from chutes without solid sides as high as the bottom of a normal cow’s belly. Cows can get their legs stuck in open sides and break them. It is helpful if these solid sides are removeable so you can look at an animal’s feet, but they need to be solid.

For cattle safety, avoid chutes with a very narrow V-shape. The chute should be wide enough for animals to comfortably walk in without having to place their feet awkwardly in front of each other. This also can cause cattle to kick their legs, getting them stuck in the sides of the chute and breaking them.

In regard to cattle movement, stay away from chutes that do not open in the front. Older chutes had a solid front that had a bar that locked from the top. Cattle will not willingly enter these chutes and are prone to choke in them.

One overlooked area of a good cattle chute is footing. A quality chute should have ample footing so cattle do not slip while in the chute. The best way to determine this is to watch the chute in action. Not in the promo videos, but at someone’s place. If you see calves slipping and falling more than 10% of the time, find a different chute. Same thing for cows—if they are going down on their front while their back legs slide and paddle, the chute does not have good enough footing.

Safety for people

For human safety, look at all handles to make sure they are not close to solid parts of the chute. If it looks easy to break your hand on them, then it probably is.

The palpation cage is also an area to observe. Make sure the back to the cage can lock shut so a cow cannot come through the back gate and squish your veterinarian into the cow that is being palpated. Also, measure the door to the palpation cage. It needs to be at least 30 inches wide to allow safe access into and out of the cage. On behalf of all cattle vets, I thank you in advance for doing these things.

Features to make processing easier

Once safety concerns have been addressed, there are a few features that make processing cattle faster and easier. The first is having open access to the neck for vaccinations. Some chutes use side panels that can be opened and closed, but these then need to be opened and closed each time. If the opening is permanent, it saves one step in processing. Make sure this opening is not in such a location that it risks being a leg-breaking location.

On the topic of the neck, there are many treatments we do to cattle than involve the head. Think ear tagging, implanting and nasal vaccines for examples. A neck extension helps immensely with these procedures, because it does not allow the animal to throw its head from side-to-side as easily. It is best if this extension is removable or adjustable, as small calves may not fit safely into the extension if it is too long.

While there are many other features on a cattle chute, the list of pros and cons to each of them is quite exhaustive. The key factors to consider are if the chute is safe and if it is friendly to the type of processing you are going to do. Once again, a great resource to reach out to is your veterinarian. He or she works with a wide variety of cattle chutes and has seen the benefits and drawbacks of each. It’s a quick conversation that can save a lot of headache down the road before you invest thousands in a chute.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Beef Producer or Farm Progress.

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