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Working facilities for big-horned cattle

Heather Smith Thomas for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 June 2021
Bry Chute

Many ranchers raise polled cattle, but several breeds are noted for large horns (Longhorns, Watusi, Scotch Highlanders, etc.) and never dehorned.

Breeders of big-horned cattle or exotic animals like yaks need working facilities that can handle horned animals safely.

Bry Chute

One of the first squeeze chutes for horned cattle was designed by Darol Dickinson (Dickinson Cattle Company), who has raised Longhorns for 60 years. His chute went through several modifications after his first innovative efforts.

“When artificial insemination [A.I.] became the fastest method of breed improvement, we had to confine cows in a steady, standing position, keep the horns safe and protect the technician. We made a side-squeeze wooden gate with an enlarged area in front for big horns. Later, we developed a side-squeeze metal chute with wider horizontal spaces and not as many vertical bars,” he explains. In a regular squeeze chute, vertical bars are a hazard, and horns get stuck.

“In 1978, we acquired a Powder River squeeze chute – the standard of the industry. It had vertical drop-down bars on the sides, which were a problem when moving horned cows through it. The head catch was the hard part,” Dickinson says.

Next step was a Powder River Classic Longhorn chute with horizontal side bars. “Vertical bars for horned cattle never work; horns and legs can poke out the sides and break.” Many Longhorn breeders improvised and widened it, yet the headgate closure was still an issue for horns.

As embryo transplant technology developed, safer containment for flushing was needed. Using the flaws and successes of previous years, Dickinson had a professional welder create a safe side-squeeze. It was wide in front for big horns, and cattle flowed into it from a series of alleys and confinement gates.

“It worked well for over 2,000 embryo transfer pregnancies from 1979 to 1984. Never was a cow injured, no horns broken,” says Dickinson.

This was the first side-squeeze designed for horned cattle without a headgate. Later, other chutes were made by Dickinson Cattle Company with slight variations. As the Longhorn business flourished, other people began marketing chutes that were bigger but costly to ship. The Powder River Longhorn Classic is no longer manufactured.

In 2008, Dickinson came up with a new concept. “One of the problems was cost of freight, so we designed a two-side-squeeze, no headgate, all-purpose squeeze that folds down for shipping.” This is the Bry Chute, named after one his grandsons.

“There are about seven companies now that make a side-squeeze chute, but ours is the only one you can collapse and fold down to 9 feet by 5 feet by 8 inches. We can ship it Fed-Ex express anywhere in the U.S. for 300 to 450 dollars,” he says.

P&C Cattle Pens

Longhorn Cage

This company makes a Longhorn Cage, with side entry and exit that makes it easy for horns to slide in, palpation gates front and back for working either end, drop-downs on both sides for branding, plus a horn-lock system that can be added.

P&C Cattle pens also makes portable corral systems for Longhorns, in several sizes. Gates on working facilities for Longhorns should always be at least 10 feet wide to accommodate the horns, according to owner Paul Warford. He started making facilities for Longhorns in 2008. He and his son Jack manufacture, deliver and set up their durable portable cattle-handling facilities.

“Many veterinarians won’t work on Longhorns unless you have a proper facility,” Paul says. It’s important for people with big-horned cattle to get set up with something that works. Many folks who get into Longhorns, Watusi, Scottish Highland, etc., buy a few acres in the country and want something to eat the grass. If they buy cattle, they often want something unique or eye-catching, and part of the attraction is horns. Then the question is how to take care of them.

Larger corra and pen system

His company makes seven styles of working facilities for Longhorns – from small to huge, elaborate facilities for ranches with many cattle. “We can also custom build just about anything,” he says. “Every farm/ranch is different; sometimes there are ponds, barns or trees that must be worked around or maybe they already have corrals and just need more facilities. Some people send us photos of their farm layout, taken from a drone. Then we know where roads come in and where they need a loading facility, etc., I can design something that fits their layout,” Paul says.

His chutes are versatile enough to be used for other cattle. “We had about 70 beef cows and worked them in this chute. You could even put big hogs in and squeeze them, and do whatever you need to do with them.”

It’s important to make the alley safe, as well. “Our alleys come with sweep systems. With beef cattle, you put several in at once and load up the alley. But with Longhorns, you want just one cow at a time through the sweep, into the alley,” he says.

Wichita Fence Company

Trails End Longhorn chute

Special chutes for Longhorns are also made and sold by Debbie Bowman (End of Trail Ranch, owner of Wichita Fence Company). “Our chutes have a door in the back – to work from behind to preg check or A.I. The chutes are made with schedule 40 pipe – heavy and strong. You can pour cement for the bottom or move them with a tractor to different locations,” she says.

“The bars are horizontal so horns or legs can’t get caught, in a design my husband, Mike, came up with. You can use it for other animals, too; you just squeeze until they are comfortable.” When she and Mike decided to make a chute for their Longhorns, they looked at other chutes and designs and realized they wanted to create their own.

“Word-of-mouth was our advertising; we didn’t try to find customers. They came to us. That’s how we got into the chute business. Veterinarians love them because it makes their work easier. The Kansas Artificial Breeding Service Unit at Kansas State University now has one, and our vet has one that can be transported.”

The Joe Chute

The Joe Chute

This squeeze chute is made by Joe and Stephanie Sedlacek (Lazy J Longhorns). Their chute was used in 2019 by the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America to measure more than 300 Longhorns for their Horn Show.

“We’ve raised Longhorns for 25 years. At first, we did what every Longhorn rancher did when we had to confine one – squeezing it behind two gates or panels – but that never worked very well. Then we bought a Longhorn chute that was popular on the market at the time, with no vertical bars. But you couldn’t stop the horns from swinging. We were always getting smacked in the face with a horn,” Joe says.

“We were hosting horn measuring days at our ranch, since we were a satellite for the horn measurement contest, and one day a bull from someone else’s ranch was in our chute, picked it up and walked with it into the crowd.”

One or two cattle can be brought in

Joe called a welder, who helped redesign it. “I was telling him we needed to change this and that, and he said, ‘Why don’t you just build what’s in your head instead of modifying somebody else’s chute.’ I drew it on paper and he built my first prototype. We used that chute 10 years at the ranch and everyone who saw it wanted one like it. People started calling it the Joe Chute and many people asked us to build one for them, so we started making chutes.”

The “Joe Chute” has bars to keep horns from swinging, and gates are offset; one swings one way and the other the opposite way. You can squeeze a 2,500-pound beef bull or a newborn calf. It also has branding bars that drop down for branding access.

“My veterinarian bought one, and since it’s bigger than a regular chute he uses it for everything, including Holstein cows that need C-sections. Several buffalo ranchers love it. Zoos are using it for zebras, Watusi cattle, Scotch Highlanders and other exotic animals. Busch Gardens in St. Louis is using our chute for elk and no longer dart them with tranquilizer guns,” Joe says.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Bry Chute developed by Darol Dickinson.

PHOTO 2: Longhorn Cage made by P&C Cattle Pens.

PHOTO 3: Trails End Longhorn chute made by Wichita Fence Company.

PHOTO 4: The Joe Chute, made by Joe Sedlacek.

Heather Thomas is a freelance writer based in Idaho.