How to Choose the Right Cattle Chute

There are all kinds of choices available when you’re shopping for a cattle chute.

Most chutes on the market are well-built and of good quality, but it’s important to buy the right chute for the job. Each has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the size of the stock you’re working with, and the purpose of the chute. We probably don’t have to tell you that when you’re dealing with an animal that weighs, on average, 2,200 pounds, there’s little room for error, and you may not get a do-over.

Using a chute that isn’t suited to your operation can be dangerous, both to livestock and to those who work with them. If you’ve ever had to euthanize a valuable animal because of a leg broken in the chute, or had a nasty infection develop thanks to a lost needle, you know what we’re talking about. You also want the animal to feel as comfortable as possible while being restrained. If you have an animal that already has temperament issues, using the wrong chute is just going to make matters even worse.

If you buy the wrong cattle chute, it’s going to end up costing you money in terms of increased processing time. Choosing the right chute, and the right dealer to install it, ultimately helps you to avoid costly problems down the road. Your dealer should be able to advise you on which type of chute to buy, install it for you, and train your people in how to use it. You know how hard it is to get good help, so you want to be sure that even an inexperienced worker is at ease using the chute.

There are several important points to consider when you’re deciding which chute to buy.

What Type of Herd Do You Have?

If you’re running a mixed herd and need to frequently make head adjustments, you want to be sure that they can be done quickly. If you have to find a wrench every time you need to make an adjustment, that’s going to take up valuable time. A scissor chute doesn’t need adjusting, so it’s a great option if you’re handling cattle of different sizes.
With a mixed herd, head capacity is another important factor. You’re going to need a cattle chute that’s narrow enough for calves, but wide enough to accommodate a bull. The only type of chute that can do this consistently is one with a hydraulic head gate. A.L. Silencer hydraulic squeeze chutes are perfect for handling cattle of all sizes safely.

What Type of Catching Mechanism Does the Head Gate Have?

Consider the head gate catching mechanism on the chute you’re thinking of buying. Can you set it to self-catch? Can a cow or bull trip the catch by throwing its head? Keep in mind that some chutes have chains or cables – this type of mechanism will allow both sides of the catch to swing at the same time, and are prone to breaking. Most newer chutes have guards that will eliminate or at least minimize the problem, but if you’re considering a used chute, be sure to check this out.
Make sure that the head gate mechanism is easy to manipulate, and easily released, especially if you have a large herd. If it isn’t, you’re going to end up exhausted, and you might even find that in the latter stages of the operation, you need assistance with the mechanism.

What Type of Side Release Do You Need?

Note that the question here isn’t “Do you need a side release?” You indisputably do. We don’t know of any new chutes that aren’t equipped with side releases. That’s because in addition to allowing for sorting, a side release offers a quick, safe escape for a downed animal. The only real issue here is whether your facility is best suited to a left-hand release, or a right-hand release.

What Will You Use the Chute For?

Think about the reasons you’ll be using the chute, and choose one that accommodates your most frequent practices. For instance, if you’re operating a feedlot, you’re going to need superior head restraint for vaccinations and other injections. If you’re heavy into breeding, you’ll need to have proper access through the sidebars, and ideally, removable sides in case a C-section should be necessary. Purebred breeders also need to be able to get at a bull’s underside for semen testing, and head capacity will also be very important.

Is a Backdrop Gate Important?

Some cattlemen never use a backdrop gate – they leave them permanently locked in the up position, or pull them out. This is usually because they’re heavy, and may require assistance to operate. Some backdrop gates are now constructed from aluminum and counterweighted for easier use. You know how you work, and you’re the best judge of whether a backdrop gate would be an asset to your operation, or just something you want to keep out of the way.

What About Brisket Bars?

This is another feature that you may or may not need. It’s a bar which the animal straddles, preventing it from going down in the chute. It can be useful for branding purposes.

How Much Should You Spend on a Cattle Chute?

Much depends on the purpose of the chute. You’ll find cattle chutes, including hydraulic squeeze chutes in a wide range of prices. As is the case with most things, usually the lower the price, the lower the quality, and there are fewer available options. If you’re a hobby farmer with just a few cattle and a focus on the lighter breeds, you may be able to get by with a modestly-priced chute. If you’re a production farmer or rancher with several hundred head, a cheap chute is just going to deliver a ton of frustration. You’ll be better off with a quality model like an A.L. Silencer hydraulic squeeze chute.

Should I Talk to an Expert?

By all means! Talk to other farmers and ranchers, and find out what they’re using. Talk to dealers as well – they’re your front line when it comes to making sure you get the chute that’s right for you. Keep in mind, though, that all dealers are different – some only do it part time, and even though you can buy a chute from any dealer, it’s best to choose one that’s committed to you full time. A.L. is the leading cattle chute dealer in the country, and you can rely on them for solid customer service. They also know all the ins and outs of chute technology – more so than other ranchers.
If you’re still undecided, your veterinarian can be a wealth of useful information. Think about it. Vets work with all types of animals or all sizes and classes, and they use chutes for just about everything – examining injured bulls, palpating cows, doing C-sections and more. They know the advantages and disadvantages of various types of chutes, and can tell you from personal experience what you should consider when purchasing a cattle chute for the specific needs of your herd.

The Final Word

A.L. is the national leader in selling and servicing the Silencer brand of cattle chutes, and other equipment that’s well-suited to any type of herd and any type of operation.

The Silencer cattle chute features complete opening head and tail doors to reduce hesitation when the animal is entering and exiting the chute, hydraulic neck bars that move left, right and straight ahead, patented low-pressure head doors rated for animals from 350-2,500 pounds, and a 130-point noise reduction system to keep cattle calm.

You can choose from what’s available in stock, or have a system custom-designed to suit your needs. In Nebraska, you can reach A.L. at 308-215-0258. In Texas, call 817-736-6920. Call today and get the cattle chute that’s just right for you and your herd.