With cattle prices remaining at all-time highs, the cattle business continues to be very profitable for many producers. Consequently, more producers — small, medium, and large — are either entering the cattle business or expanding their existing herds.
Such a move, however, can present new challenges if a producer is not equipped to properly handle cattle and their needs.
Cattle are not hands-off animals; there are multiple instances where cattle need significant time and attention for things such as deworming, delousing, vaccination, tagging, and more. The producer needs a way to perform these tasks in a safe and efficient manner for some very large and potentially difficult-to-handle animals.
It's important to have a cattle-handling system that's safe for both operators and cattle and that allows you to work the animals in a much more stress-free environment for everyone involved.
An effective cattle-handling system also helps prevent the "rodeos" that tend to occur when you work cattle without proper equipment. And it helps you get the work done in an efficient and timely manner.
The most important element in any system is a good quality chute, which is a specially designed frame constructed to allow you to safely hold both their head and body still to work the animal from front to rear.
Chutes come in different sizes and types, with lots of different features and a wide range of prices. For the entry-level to medium herdsman, most any reputable chute will give you the basic functionality you need to properly handle your animals. The larger and more experienced producer may want some specific features, or even a hydraulic chute, but these models can be very expensive and require high volume usage in order to be cost effective.
The first step is to identify what type of work you are going to need to do to your herd; then, you can identify chutes that can easily meet or exceed those needs.
TUB AND ALLEY
A tub and alley, also called a sweep and alley, is a round holding pen with a "sweeping" gate that moves the animal in the direction of an alley that leads into the back of the chute. The tub allows the animals to gradually work their way into the alley leading to the chute, while keeping the operator safe by being outside of the holding pen.
Once an animal enters the alley, cattle will typically want to "follow the leader" through a perceived exit from the tub.
Tub systems come with sheeted sides to block cattle's view so they are not distracted by operators working outside the system, which creates a smoother flow through the system. For smaller operators with fewer numbers, tub and alleys also come without sheeting, which is a much less expensive alternative that still works well.
Cattle-handling systems are a considerable financial investment in your cattle and farming operation, but a well-made system will last for a very long time, especially if it is set up inside a barn, shed, or other covered pavilion to protect it from the weather.
A good cattle-handling system will create efficiency and safety in managing your herd, whether it's large or small, and can enhance the quality of your herd — and the selling price — when it comes time for market.
Todd Harne, a third-generation cattle producer in Kentucky, consults and tests cattle-handling equipment for Tarter Farm and Ranch Equipment.