Many types of squeeze chutes exist today, each with features that make cattle restraint easier.
There are just as many tub systems on the market too. Everyone spends a little extra time and attention when getting ready to purchase such equipment. Heads are scratched for days thinking about altering the current facilities, or changing the catch pens feeding the tub. However, there is seldom any thought given to the alleyway section. As the age old saying goes “your only as strong as the weakest link,” you can only process cattle as efficiently as your alleyway allows.
There are really only three measurements to an alleyway: width, height and length. If your putting calves and cows through it then the capability of adjusting the width would be great. This is rarely an option but there are a few systems available with this potential. If the goal is efficient-safe-low stress cattle handling then width is important. Many producers resort to running one calf at a time through the system in order to keep that calf from turning around. If this sounds familiar then you’re increasing the stress level of all the calves, possible injuries, and time.
Height is easy, just figure out how tall the sides have to be to keep your cows from climbing out. This can vary from 5 to 8 foot sides. Culling any “Houdini Cow” is usually the best long-term decision, before she teaches anyone else her tricks or provides you with heifer calves that act the same way. If tall sides don’t solve the problem of keeping cows in the alley, the options are creating solid sides or changing the bottom 3 foot to vertical pipe instead of horizontal. We must be careful with solid sided alleys as they reduce airflow significantly allowing cattle to overheat.
Now, that only leaves length to discuss. It is my opinion that the alleyway length should hold around 10 percent of the herd capacity at a time. There is no magic number but too many in a line might lead to boss cows trying to flip animals in front of them, attempts to crawl out, or cattle just standing too long if problems arise up front.
The time it takes the last cow in an alley to exit the chute should be monitored and adjustments can be made as processing continues. I prefer the maximum time to be less than 15 minutes. Short alleys have their own problems, most importantly is increasing stress. Every time a person goes back to the catch pen to bring one cow to the tub, each and every cow experiences a stress response. Think of the last cow(s) to make it to the chute. Remember they are herd animals and let them process themselves in small groups. Stop fighting with individual animals.
Short alleys also lead to FAST cattle. Fast cattle are not to be confused with efficient processing. Again, having to move cows one at a time often creates this problem. Depending on what style the headgate is, the potential for shoulder and neck injuries can be high. Just like a car wreck, it’s not the speed but the force of a sudden stop that causes the injury.
Finally, I have a selfish reason for advocating a lengthy alleyway. Veterinarians are typically in a hurry and usually behind before they start each day. It is quite nice for my next patient to be standing calmly right behind the chute waiting her turn.
Once that cow is adequately restrained it takes less than a minute to pregnancy check, vaccinate and de-worm her. If tags need applied or age determined then add another minute as a buffer. Processing might be even faster given certain circumstances and equipment, but my point is the consideration of time. If your veterinarian has to wait 10 minutes between cows, rethink your alleyway. With the ever-narrowing profit margins available with large animal products, vets have to adjust charges centering on time not just services performed. Simple math dictates the longer it takes, the more we have to charge you to stay in business.