Is it time to purchase a new manual head gate for your operation? There are a lot of choices on the market, and it can be hard to determine which one is best suited for your cattle operation. Not all manual head gates are the same. The difference is in the details. Small features that seem insignificant in a product description about a head gate can seem irrelevant to your operation. However, when that manual head gate is put to work on a cattle operation those details really make a difference. Any head gate should be safe and simple to use. When these little details done correctly, they give the handler more control and are far less work to operate.

It all starts with the design of the head gate. Countless hours of research and development using best practices in animal science have improved the manual head gate options that are available from some manufacturers. This has made them safer for the cattle and their handlers. A manual head gate requires that the handler be near the cattle; therefore, you should choose a manual head gate that has all the available safety features.

These added features make the head gate easier to operate and safer for the cattle and the handler. Paying attention to the details means that your job of working cattle in the handling system becomes easier. Look for the following features in a manual head gate:


A quiet head gate goes back to the premise that we use as the foundation for all our cattle handling practices. Animal science research shows that cattle are less stressed in a quiet location or with quiet handling. So, keep that head gate quiet to reduce the stress cattle experience while in the chute. Look for rubber on hinges and latches to create a quieter head gate.


Some cattle handlers are left-handed; other handlers are right-handed. A good head gate will work for anyone, no matter which is his or her dominant hand.

Square bars are stronger

Head gates come in all shapes and sizes. Popular options include a sliding panel, round bars, or square bars. Research and development of all these options has found that the square bars are strongest in the head gate and withstand the pressure from cattle. The square bars also reduce the pressure points on the animals and drastically minimize the depth and severity of bruising.

Black bull looking at camera with Arrow Cattle Panels and Gates in the background

Curtain-style head gates prevent choking

Research and development has also looked at the style of the head gate to increase the safety and comfort of cattle. A curtain-style head gate prevents choking if an animal goes down in the chute when compared to scissor-style head gates. Other styles can choke cattle, and can lead to issues with processing if a large momma cow gets stuck trying to exit. Curtain-styles prevent choking no matter the size of cattle being worked.

Easy release

An easy release that opens quietly and quickly lets the cattle out of the head gate and handling system much quicker. This also helps reduce stress and get the animal back in with the rest of the herd more efficiently. The head gate should open wide enough that you do not need to worry about catching the animal's hips in the gate.

Ergonomic handles are easier to operate

The handle should be more than just ergonomically friendly. There should only be a single lever needed to operate the head gate. The best head gates will have an adjustable lever so that it can be operated from anywhere along the chute.


Head holder

A head holder holds the animal's head in place and provides maximum control for the handler. These can be especially useful if you are tagging ears or administering a bolus. It also helps keep the animal calm as it gently cradles their head.

    Rancher processing a calf in Q-Catch Cattle Chute and Head Holder

    The head gate is an important part of any cattle operation and should be considered as another member of your team. Look for features that will make your job easier and more efficient while minimizing any stress or discomfort for the cattle. At the end of the day, a good head gate will help you get through your chores quickly and back doing the things that matter most.

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    About the Author

    Dana Charban, Manager of Content Strategies and Journalist for Arrowquip, catching black cow in Q-Catch 86 Series cattle chute

    Dana Charban

    As a small town girl from rural Manitoba, Dana Charban grew up around agriculture and farming her en...

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