The argument of manual versus self-catch head gates on cattle squeeze chutes has been ongoing for years! According to a converted customer who once owned a self-catch head gate and invested in Q-Catch cattle squeeze chute with a manual head gate, he praises “the beauty of the sliding head gate”. People will always have their personal preferences, but we’re here to highlight the animal science backed benefits of the manual catch.

Self-Catch Head Gate vs Manual Catch Head Gate

What is a Self-Catch Head Gate?

The term “self-catch” is very misleading in the cattle industry. Although the self-catch head gate is designed for the animal to catch themselves, ranchers are often required to adjust the head gate to fit the animal properly. It is rumored that a self-catch is less work, and that might be true if all cattle were the same size! Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. With a self-catch head gate, you must adjust the head gate to suit animals of various sizes. The amount of work involved in adjustments alone can be a very time consuming and difficult process.

According to ranchers, the positives of a self-catch head gate are:

One-man operation. If you ask a rancher why they prefer a self-catch head gate, the thing that stands out is that they call it the one-man operation. The main issue with this logic is that it fails to factor in chute shyness and missed catches.

Affordable. It’s a lot cheaper than the manual head gate option, the self-catch head gate is what you pay for.

Yes, there are positives to the self-catch, as written above, but when it comes to down to the safety the self-catch has many elements that can put both cattle and handler at risk.

What’s the Animal Science Behind the Self-Catch Head Gate?

With the self-catch head gate, animal science has not been considered. When the animals enter the squeeze chute the last thing they need is the distraction, to become chute shy and forced into doing something they don’t want to do.

Distraction and Escape

It’s important to remove any visual stimuli to reduce the stress on the cattle, as the last thing you want is a distracted or startled cow getting hurt. Cattle have sensitive hearing and poor depth perception, and in a self-catch the cow knows, judging by the opening the light they are exposed to, that there is something that is blocking the way through. As a result, they start to panic and try to escape, making unnecessary noises which then, of course, startles them.

You can clearly see in that video that this cow is struggling, trying to force it’s head up and through the bars to find the opening. Why cause your cattle unnecessary stress?

Chute Shy

Cattle always move away from pressure. If an animal enters the head gate at a walking pace, most of the time it won’t be enough force to trigger the head gate to lock. The cow then backs up and becomes ‘chute shy’. At this point, it becomes extremely challenging to force the animal back into the head gate. This is when you’ll need those extra hands.

Too Much Force

Animals must put a lot of force on the head gate to activate it. What this does is cause your cattle to become stressed, distracted and frustrated. This is against any low-stress cattle handling principles.

Cow Walking Into Manual Squeeze Chute

What is A Manual Head Gate?

Many people are opposed to manual head gates because of the way they were made in past. Times have changed, and we have new innovations and safer equipment. Keeping the low-stress cattle handling in mind, manual head gates have proven to be much more reliable, easier, and faster to use than self-catch head gates.

The manual head gate causes less stress on the cattle. As a result, they move through the chute more focused and undistracted, and most importantly neither the rancher or the cattle are at risk of being injured. From a proud Arrowquip customer, he describes his experience of switching to a manual head gate:

“They don’t feel the need to take a run at it, the chute is open and looks like a natural place to go as opposed to a self-catch head gate that is always partially blocked and provides a narrow opening those cows always feel they need to lunge at to get through. I find cows just walk up nice and quiet and are easily caught. No clanging and banging head gate. Cattle are easily released, and just step out, way less stress on the critter.”

This demo from the 2017 Tulsa Farm Show highlights the differences!

What’s the Animal Science Behind the Manual Head Gate?

The manual head gate has been designed intentionally around low-stress cattle handling. The manual head gate is proven to be easier on the cattle and the handler.

Wide Open

To limit stress when a cow walks through a system, it is best to not have anything in their way that may distract or deter them. The manual head gate is open and the cattle walk through the system without hesitation and they are effortlessly caught. No need to force your cattle through a small opening.


Cattle are very sensitive to noise. It is important that you have a chute that limits noise to make for a positive cattle handling experience. The manual head gate doesn’t require cattle to force themselves up against bars, so there’s no clanging and banging on the head gate when they are getting caught. It’s smooth, calm and low stress for the cattle.

Easy on you, easy on them

The manual head gate is easier for everyone involved. There’s no stress for the cow and minimal stress for the user, especially if you’re using the user-friendly head gate from Arrowquip.

Arrowquip has designed the Q-Catch 86 Series to be a one-man operation that is easy on the rancher and the cattle. To see Arrowquip Innovation in action, watch this video:


Arrowquip has designed the Q-Catch 86 Series so that the cow is focused and moves through the squeeze chute comfortable, quietly and unharmed. Cattle don’t struggle to find a way out because they know their way out and they are comfortable with that. Arrowquip promises to make cattle handling easier, faster and safer for both the rancher and the cattle.

While this may not change your opinion, the most important thing is to think about how the self-catch and manual catch chute will affect your operation? What will it do to your cattle? What will it do for you? And always make sure that you stay safe!