The purpose of a head gate is to secure the animal while medication is administered, the veterinarian does a health check, or an ear tag is put in, among other procedures. Evolution means “the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form,” according to Oxford dictionaries. It is the perfect way to describe the transformation of the cattle head gate.

We have come a long way since the first head gates were created to help livestock handlers by immobilizing cattle. Originally, livestock handlers used homemade cattle head gates. The earliest head gates were mounted to fence posts and improvised with whatever facilities a stock person had.

Today, we have state-of-the-art chutes with hydraulic, self-catch and manual catch head gates that adhere to current animal science and behavior research. This is important because it enhances safety for cattle and handlers and increases efficiency by being faster and easier to use.

The evolution of the cattle head gate is important because it has allowed the industry to grow while also recognizing the need for low-stress cattle handling and better livestock equipment. Here, we review some of the key features of head gates and their benefits to cattle and handlers.

Headgate Direct Drive

Self-Catch Head Gates

Head gates have gone from manual adjustments to automatic adjustments. A self-catch head gate is also called an auto-adjusting livestock head catch, though they often require secondary levers and adjustments, especially between different sizes of cattle. A self-catch head gate means the animal catches itself when their shoulders hit the head gate and activate the neck enclosure. Handlers adjust the self-catch settings based on the size of the animals they are working. Therefore, handlers could be altering the settings multiple times throughout a session of working cattle.

Chutes with self-catch head gates are often more affordable, and this has increased their use. However, there are downsides to using them on a livestock operation. Self-catch head gates can be harder to use, harder on cattle, and many are not created using the latest animal science research.

For example, one of the major downsides of self-catch head gates is that cattle become wary of them and do not want to enter the chute after a few sessions in a self-catch head gate. The force of the self-catch mechanism and its repeated use increases stress levels in cattle and can lead to bruising if the catch is not adjusted properly. Moreover, time is lost making continuous adjustments as cattle sizes change and cattle need to be coaxed into the chute.

Head Gate Comparison Charts with a focus on self catch head gates

Manual Head Gates

Manual head gates have been improved over time to lower stress by incorporating animal science research and best practices. No adjustments are needed with these head gates.

In the past, Arrowquip offered self-catch head gates, but made the move the manual catch head gates because they are safer for both the cattle and handler, on top of also being more efficient to use. Many competitors also followed suit. Manual head gates also drastically reduce the chances of shoulder bruising in cattle, which leads to higher profits at sale time.

Rigorous testing and animal science research have allowed us to continually improve our manual catch head gates. Arrowquip’s manual head gates are unique to others available because we have incorporated low-stress cattle handling, animal safety, and ease of use into their design.

Our patented Direct Drive system provides rapid response of our 3E Head Gate, minimizing the number of missed catches. By controlling the catch, cattle stress levels and the risk of shoulder bruising in the head gate are also drastically reduced. Using 3E, Easy Entry and Exit principles, cattle are guided into the chute using light, which animals are naturally drawn to. Once animals are inside the chute, the operation is quieter than other head gates which further reduces stress levels and helps keep cattle calm.

[cinemograph of using our manual head gate including Direct Drive, show 3E and curtain style from front, willingness of cattle to quietly and easily move into head gate and out of the chute.]

We’ve also eliminated bottom yokes to prevent a potential choking hazard, should cattle go down in the chute. The curtain style on the manual head gate further helps eliminate choking and lets more light into the chute. Because of their design, manual head gates also have more space for cattle to exit through, encouraging them to continue moving forward and out of the chute.

Finally, we included the head holder as an add-on option to Arrowquip chutes. The 3rd Generation Head Holder gently cradles the animal’s head while it is immobilized in the head gate and provides support and comfort.

Head Gate Comparison Charts with a focus on manual catch head gates

Of course, as with any product, not all versions of head gates are created equally. There are a lot of head gate options on the market, and although all have received improvements during the evolution of the head gate, some are still not using the highest-quality materials and principles of low-stress cattle handling. While the lower price is tempting and seen as an initial win, these cheaper head gates eventually end up being more expensive because of increased labor costs, safety issues, and decreased lifespan.

At the end of the day, head gates should be user-friendly and allow the cattle to enter and exit easily, without causing them unnecessary stress. The innovation and evolution of the cattle head gate is a testament to the role of livestock equipment in operations and the need for tools that make us safer and more efficient when handling cattle.

Arrowquip is part of the cattle industry and understands the needs of livestock handlers because we also work with cattle and use the equipment. We will continue offering all types of cattle equipment that adhere to the highest standards of quality and animal science research to meet the industry's needs. Evolution is a gradual development, but when we look back over the history of head gates, it has improved by leaps and bounds. That is something we can all be proud of.

What type of cattle head gate do you use? Tell us in the comments!