Sunday, January 4, 2015

Out With The Old Headgate, In With The New Squeeze Chute

I've been using an old headgate mounted on the end of a chute in my working pens ever since I built my pens.  Grandpa bought this headgate back in the late-70's when he rebuilt his working pens, I salvaged it after the tornado damaged those pens, and installed it back when I built my pens.  It's supposed to be an auto-catch headgate and it might have been state of the art back in 1979, but I've never been able to get it work as good as I thought it should work. 

I originally used it because I didn't think I could afford to spend the money on a squeeze chute, and I figured that if it worked for Grandpa then it should still work for me.  But I've hated that headgate from the first time I've used it and always dread working cattle with it. Over the years, I've had a cow smash my hand when she jumped around after I caught her head, I had a heifer run straight through it twice in a row (she ran full blast and knocked the gate past the catch so that it was open, then the second time around she did the same exact thing even though I had the headgate barely open, after all that I couldn't get her anywhere close to the chute for a third try), I jabbed myself in the thumb with the needle trying to vaccinate an uncooperative steer (there's not enough room behind the headgate), and the last straw was last summer when a cow ran into the headgate and got herself hip-locked.

For those that don't know what I'm talking about when I say "hip-locked", she squeezed through the opening in the headgate and instead of her shoulders pushing the headgate forward to catch her head, they slipped through the opening, spread the gate out instead of forward, and her hips got wedged into the opening.  She couldn't go forward and she couldn't go backwards, because her hips were locked in the headgate.  The cow was calmer than I was about the whole situation, but I had to cut the headgate apart with a hacksaw to get her out and she ended up with just some hide scraped off of her hip bones.  The whole time I was trying to saw that headgate apart so I could get that cow out, I was thinking about how stupid I was for trying to save a little money by using this piece-of-junk headgate. 
Goodbye and Good Riddance, You Old Piece of Junk
After years of fighting one, I'd never get another "auto-catch" saloon-door type of headgate ever again, they never seem to work right, and after a little online reading after the fact, it appears like it's pretty common for cows to get hip-locked or choked if they go down in the chute.
Shiny, New Squeeze Chute That Actually Works
So I spent a time to do a little research and shopping around, and bought a new squeeze chute for both the cows and me.  The irritating part about the whole deal is that it didn't cost as much as I always assumed it would cost for all those years I was fighting that piece-of-junk headgate to save money.   I easily could have lost a cow trying to save few dollars with that old headgate, (more and more it seems like it costs me money whenever I try to save money), so I'm going to try to change my way of thinking in the future and try not to be such a tightwad.

I'm not sure if most people would call it a New Year's Resolution, but my Procrastinator's New Year's Resolution (four days late) is to spend a little money this year to make my life just a little bit easier and hopefully a little bit more profitable.

As soon as it warms up a little, I'm going to get out the torch and do a little cutting, then a little welding so I can install the new squeeze chute, then I'm going to run a few cows though it just for the heck of it, and if anyone asks real nice, I might let them try it out for themselves. 


  1. "it seems like it costs me money whenever I try to save money"

    I have found that is an easy concept to learn but hard to implement. I am forever reminding myself of that and I still get burned from time to time. I guess because it is so easy to overspend and hard to prove over time that you were wrong.

    1. "It seems like it costs me money whenever I try to save money by being a cheapskate" might have been a better way to describe it.

      It always seems like it's a fine line for me between spending money when it needs to be spent and wasting money on unneeded stuff. I should have gotten rid of that headgate when it first gave me problems and I had a better idea about what I needed a squeeze chute to do for me instead of struggling for years with that piece of junk.

      Of course, without fighting that headgate over and over again, I wouldn't have learned what to look for in a new squeeze chute.

      Struggle and fight, learn from the struggling, then spend your money.

  2. We've been having this same conversation for years ourselves. That is, we have been pondering a new squeeze chute (you've seen the photos of our old one at work) for quite some time.

    1. I'd been meaning to buy this squeeze chute all summer, knew I really needed to buy it before the end of the year (due to taxes, depreciation, and all that), and finally remembered to buy it right before you posted that photo of those heifers all piled up inside your chute. I've never had anything that looked as bad as that happen, but I thought I was going to have to get a torch out to cut that headgate apart if I couldn't get it apart with the hacksaw (I might need to buy a battery-powered Sawzall).

      For anyone wondering, I bought the SO191 chute and paid a whole lot less than the retail price for it:

      If I had a lot more cattle, I might have bought the SO4 which has a few upgrades like a split tailgate, a lever operated side gate, and easier to adjust side panels (it also costs about $1000 more).

    2. The wood side panels recently broke out of our old chute, so it needs to be repaired. There was quite a bit of discussion about getting a new chute, and there seems to be universal approval of the ideal.

      Our veterinarian brings his own chute. Not just to our cattle, but everywhere. He has a neat trailer mounted outfit that's hydraulic. If I were a vet, I'd invest in one like that.

    3. That's where I get into trouble since I tend to forget all the trouble I've had in the past using a tool and I'm always tempted to just fix or modify something when it breaks (as in, "how hard can it be to replace that wood" or "Let's just weld in some sheetmetal to replace that wood").

      Last summer, I even had the crazy thought that I could easily weld that headgate back together so I wouldn't have to spend the money replacing it, but I regained my senses when I realized that if I welded it back together, I'd probably never be able to cut it apart again when another cow got herself stuck in it.

      I seem to walk a thin line between being frugal and being cheap.