Don’t rush when upgrading or replacing a handling system

You’ll be living with any changes for a long time, so it pays to do your research and seek expert advice

You’re going to invest in a new cattle-handling system, but there are so many options, you’re feeling confused.

Here are some things to consider:

Crowding tubs or Bud Box?

A crowding tub is designed to move cattle from a wide group alley into a narrow single-file alley. Like the Bud Box, they rely on the animals’ natural instinct to turn around and go back the way they came when faced with an obstacle.

A Bud Box requires more skill from the handler, but both require producers to understand how cattle react in confined spaces.

“I find many people want magic from facilities, but it only happens when you do your homework,” says Dylan Biggs. “There are always challenges. With crowd tubs, depending on how you use them, the challenge is having them too crowded. With a Bud Box, you put cows in and put pressure on them and they go towards where they came from. But modifications can be made to crowd tubs to mimic a Bud Box.”

Crowding tubs are good when it’s just one or two people dealing with larger groups of cattle, says Cody Creelman, a veterinarian from Airdrie.

“You can bring up a big bunch and hold them in the tub, and hopefully they all filter (through the system),” says Creelman. “If you have a good-size crew and you are moving very fast up front, the tub actually makes it a little more difficult because those cattle lose momentum. If we have the labour why don’t we leave the tub gate open and just bring three or four animals at a time? Because those animals never stall, never go stale, they keep moving. It’s really all about the momentum.”

Alley insights

Many alleys on the market these days are in an S-shape or circular shape because, the thinking goes, cattle like to move in a circular pattern.

However, says Biggs, cows circle in a corral if they are upset.

“Circling equals milling, if they are calm they are standing there,” he says. “Be aware that sometimes those natural behaviours are indicative of a certain mind frame. You are going to have milling cows because you came in with too much movement, anxiety and speed. If you think (a circular alley) is going to calm them down, you’re making more work for yourself.”

Alleyways with drop-downs or sliding gates so animals can’t back up make it safer when working around the cattle because it eliminates the “post factor,” says Creelman.

“One of the most dangerous aspects when we are doing a lot of work is guys putting posts in and out behind animals because the animals keep backing out on you,” he says. “The number of times that posts are used now are very low because we have other options. I even have guys who have hydraulic gates at the back so once the alleyway is full they just hit another lever and the hydraulic gate closes behind everyone so no one has to go there.”

And don’t get fixated on the idea that every animal has to be worked on in the chute — think about design options for the working space behind the chute system, he adds.

“Nobody really thinks about the opportunities you have behind the chute in the alleyway, working with animals. Not necessarily every animal needs to be caught and restrained by an actual head gate and chute. In a lot of cases, you can do a lot of work — and a lot of fast, efficient work — if you put a little bit of thought and design into that alleyway.”

Putting on the squeeze

Squeeze chutes have evolved since the old-style scissor-catch-and-squeeze versions.

Modern scissor head catches are more ergonomic, squeezes use a parallel axis to give more of a “hug” to the animal, and head catches are self-catching.

As well, hydraulic squeezes are more common. All of the feedlots Creelman services use a hydraulic system and nearly three-quarters of his cow-calf clients have gone that route, too, most with help from Growing Forward and Growing Forward 2 funding.

But one of the downfalls is the noise, says Biggs, as cattle don’t like the high-pitched whine.

“If you are able to dampen the noise, you make it easier on the cows,” he says. “The less rattling, banging, squeaking, etc., the better.”

Good footing is key and so is a skilled operator.

“A con with hydraulic squeezes is you can hurt cattle,” says Biggs, adding proper handling techniques in all facets of the operation is the way to ensure you’re dealing with calm, quiet cattle.

“You need to start in the pasture.”

Hydraulic systems are excellent in terms of securely restraining an animal — something Creelman greatly appreciates.

“When I’m doing pregnancy checking in a hydraulic chute, I don’t even get behind the animal anymore like you traditionally would in a palpation cage,” he says. “With the hydraulic systems now I just pop open the side. I don’t have to worry about a cow crashing from behind you or about opening up the palpation cage door.”

He recommends talking to your vet before upgrading or replacing handling equipment.

“We do see every single chute design possible, and they all work differently in different situations,” he says. “It depends on what the person’s goals are and how they want to process the cattle.”

About the author

Contributor

Jill Burkhardt, her husband, Kelly, and their two children, own and operate a mixed farm near Gwynne, Alberta. Originally hailing from Montana, she has a degree in Range Management from Montana State University. Jill’s agricultural passions are cattle and range management but she enjoys writing and learning more about all aspects of farming.

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