Squeeze chute can involve toying with fate

By Baxter Black

Early in my veterinary career I developed a respect for the machinery used to restrain large beasts. No, I’m not thinking of ropes, twitches or even classic music in the dairy barn, although at one time or another I have used them all.

In particular I am thinking of the devil’s playtoy … the squeeze chute.

All of us who own them know down deep we are teasing a tiger.

I would estimate in my lifetime of working cows, not including the uncountable number of feedlot opportunities, I have been hands-on, within striking distance of the “Jaws of the Devil” over 100,000 times. The fact that I am not personally disabled is due primarily to reliable equipment, fast hands, hard hats and good help.

One fall I headed up to Grouse Creek for four days of fall works. They had a brand new green Powder River squeeze chute. Often, as the vet, I would drop a side bar and lean in behind the cow and palpate her for pregnancy. It was quicker and since we had 2,200 cows to do, every bit helps.

But the ranch manager had thoughtfully built a stopping gate between the squeeze chute and the approach alley. I would swing it across the narrow alley and be positioned directly behind the cow. At that point one of the helpers would open the tailgate and I would reach in like a mother chimpanzee deftly plucking cockleburs from her baby’s ear.

It is significant to note that the tailgate on this particular model (now discontinued) split down the middle and opened to both sides like birds’ wings.

Right before lunch, already 300 head under my belt, the tailgate operator and I were moving like two acrobats coordinated in ballet-like precision; open-plunge-retract-close, open-plunge-retract-close, when suddenly someone stepped on my tutu!

The two scissor-like gates smashed together precisely as my right hand presented itself like it was shaking hands with the cow’s escutcheon! The plastic sleeve was little help.

Within an hour my hand was the size of my foot. Thank goodness I only had 1,900 head left to do!

So when Garret told me about his Uncle Chris climbing down behind his brand new hydraulic squeeze chute to push in a stubborn calf, my right hand began to throb.

Just as he shoved in the critter, his arms still extended, Aunt Barb hit the lever.

Anyone who has used hydraulic chutes understands they require some finesse. It is a developed skill.

Aunt Barb pushed it like she was slamming a door!

The pictures they took were too gruesome to describe here, but I’m hoping with some crazy glue and hog rings they’ll be able to make his ears look symmetrical again!

Baxter Black is a self-described cowboy poet, ex-veterinarian and sorry team roper. He can be contacted at 1-800-654-2550 or by e-mail at: headcowboy@baxterblack.com