Monday, 25 March 2013

New Cattle Yards Now Functional

At long last we have our cattle yards up and running; except one item – a loading ramp which we’ll arrange before too long. The bottom line is that the yards are operational and we used them for the first time yesterday with calf marking. In this post we share some of our experiences in getting to this stage.

Yards Location
Our existing sheep yards and shearing shed are about the right distance – 100 metres or so - from the house. Far enough away that we don’t get dust at the house when working on the sheep and close enough that they are easy to get to. The sheep yards have an excellent hinge-joint holding yard with great stock access from the Duck Dam Paddock. The holding yard is designed for relatively low stock densities and feeds into the main part of the sheep yards (which are steel and too low for cattle) and we figured would comfortably double up as a holding yard for cattle (although not at the same time, of course!). So our new cattle yards run to the north from the holding yard, with the sheep yards running to the west. The topography at this location is pretty much flat.

Yard Design
Given our lack of experience with cattle handling in yards we did a power of research in developing the design for our yards. Some of this included:
  •  Reviewing standard cattle yard designs produced by the NSW Department of Primary Industries and several yard manufacturers
  • Talking to many cattle producers
  • Seeking input from one of the owners of Low Stress Stockhandling on the draft design (sadly no response)
  • Assisting our friends Sam and Claire Johnson at Boxgum Grazing, Murringo with their annual calf marking

The latter brought to light the following important observations:
  • Drafting can be carried out using low stress stock handling principles in the larger pens in the yards i.e. not necessary to use a drafting race per se
  • Adult and young cattle are relatively easy to separate as the adults get used to the flow of the yards and are keen to go through open gates, while the juvenile are more hesitant
  • Young cattle can more readily and tend to turn around in the standard width races. Thus bringing them through in small lots is likely to save time in the long run.
  • A crush is pretty much these days an essential part of any good yard design. Added to this, most veterinarians will now only attend to cattle on farms that have crushes in place for OH&S reasons
  • There is a real skill in getting the timing right to get the front doors of the crush to shut at the right moment so that the neck of the animal is restrained. If one gets the timing wrong and the animal ends up getting out of the front of the crush it’s important that it ‘escapes’ into a pen in the yard where it is straightforward to get them to return to the crush
  • Races can be a bit too long necessitating a second or third person to be pushing the animals forward to the working area / crush.

We made the decision early on to make our yards using mobile cattle panels rather than fixed rails. This was in part due to our lack of experience, in the knowledge that if we made a mistake it would be a pretty simple process to move panels to something more workable. When we were drawing up the yards we went through several sheets of paper, scrapping and refining what we thought would work. It then occurred to us that we could use match sticks to represent standard panel lengths, and that when we were happy with the design we could photograph and print the layout. Here is a photo of the layout we came up with that is in fact our final design.

Some explanatory points in respect of the above design:
  • Entrance to the yards from the holding yard is from the bottom left
  • There are 3 ‘pens’ within the yards. The flow of the cattle through the yards is basically 1. From the holding yard (not shown) into the “Main” pen, then right or east into the “Bud Box” pen, then left or north into the small ‘Forcing” pen, then left or west down the race, through the crush and either back in to the “Main” pen, out into the Front Paddock or (in time) up the loading ramp
  • The position of the (future) loading ramp is represented by the open parallel matches at the top left
  • Gates (6 in all) are represented as in an open position, hinged as shown
  • ‘Man’ access gates (2 in all) in specially made panels are represented by the small silver rods
  • There are 3 slide gates – one at the rear of the loading ramp, one at the back of the crush, and another at the rear of the race leading up to the back of the crush
  • The ‘crossed’ matches represent the cattle crush
The following photograph shows the entrance to the cattle yards from the holding yard.

The photo was taken while standing in the holding yard. Visible to the right is the standard sheep gate that goes into the holding yard from the Duck Dam Paddock. This standard gate is, of course, closed when moving cattle from the holding yard into the main pen.

The following photo is taken from where the loading ramp will be in time.

On the left you can see the sliding gate that will provide access to the loading ramp in due course. The front of the crush is in the background. The ‘Man’ access gate can be seen to the right of the panel in the centre of the photo.

In this photograph you can see the closed exit gate from the ‘Push/Forcing’ pen.

Several people recommended that we install a ‘bugle’ race in the design. Our own experience with sheep and experienced low stress stock handlers suggests to us that these are not suited to the way we intend handling our stock in the yards.

Yard Suppliers
Approaches were made to 4 different cattle yard / panel suppliers:
  1. M A Steel at Young. We have made several other steel purchases from them previously and have been happy with the quality of goods and service, and delivery arrangements.
  2. Hayley’s Steel and Hardware, Forbes. Standard panel lengths were shorter than what we were looking for.
  3. Mad Harry’s at Young. We’d been told that their pricing was considerably less than what M A Steel charged but this proved not to be the case.
  4. National Livestock Systems based at Rutherford near Maitland in NSW. We’d heard rave reviews about their products and sent them our yard design. They undertook to provide us with a quote but did not respond. Some time later we visited a local farmer who sourced yards from this business. Whilst he was happy with the product the access to the yards did not work effectively and he told us that the amount of effort required to finally get the yards delivered was atrocious. The problem stems from the fact that the business revolves around one person who is ‘all over the place’. Our take on this was that this is not a business to deal with if you need yards in a reasonable time frame.
We ordered our panels, gates etc from M A Steel. They were very helpful in altering 2 gates so that they hung differently to the norm.

Crush Supplier
The different crush designs are, to put it mildly, mind-blowing. To cut a long story short we purchased a Vet Crush from John Berends Implements through Southwest Tractors at Young off the back of a recommendation from a neighbour. The beauty of their crush is that they only make one design. It also happened to be about $800 cheaper than what was on offer from M A Steel. The fact that our neighbour had one installed also meant we were able to check it out (several times) and get better prepared for how to set it up properly.

We ordered our crush toward the latter part of 2012 but were not ready to receive it at that time. Southwest Tractors kindly agreed to store it at their business premises at Young until we were ready, with us paying for it in total when they received it. They were consequently able to sell at least one other crush that we know of due to ours being on display at their premises.

Here’s a picture taken looking toward the east from inside the front of the crush.

You can see from the concrete that our cattle have now properly ‘christened’ the crush!

Yard Assembly
Given that our yards site is fairly level it was a straight-forward process to use the pins supplied by M A Steel and assemble the panels. There were a couple of slight hiccups:
  • M A Steel supplied us with short pins but ended up exchanging these for long ones at no extra cost. One of their employees was especially helpful and took the pins to his home for us to collect outside of normal working hours.
  • It was necessary to move some of the lugs on some of the panels, and we got a bloke from Grenfell who has a mobile welding plant to help us.
Concrete Slab for the Crush
The process of getting the slab in place for the crush was roughly as follows:
  • Via Southwest Tractors we sourced from John Berends Implements a set of installation instructions. These helped us figure out approximately where the anchor bolts need to go.
  • We sought the help of a local handy man who made up a set of 100 mm high form-work to the length needed as well as pins to put the form-work in the correct position.
  • When we started digging to move soil from where the slab was to go it quickly became apparent that we’d be digging for several hours. At the suggestion of our handyman we rang David Troth from Troth Equipment in Grenfell who came to the farm within about 1.5 hours with his Bobcat. It took him all of 20 minutes or so to remove the soil. At our request we got him to pile the topsoil up in the house-yard and have subsequently created 2 new garden beds. He also used the Bobcat to lift a wooden fence post and a wooden gate post out of the ground. More on this later.
  • We put the form-work in place and used mesh that was at one stage part of a trellis structure for reinforcement. Section of the mesh were cut away to allow for later drilling for the holes for the anchor bolts of the crush.
  • Mitton Brothers Earthmoving supplied 1.4 metres of concrete for the slab. The amount proved spot-on, although the delivery fellow turned up about 20 minutes before the agreed time which meant we did not have time to install the reinforcing mesh as well as we might have liked. Not a biggie in the scheme of things.
  • Our handyman and yours truly leveled out the concrete and our handyman did the finishing touches using appropriate hand tools.
Crush Delivery and Placement
After the concrete slab was in place for a few days we lined up a time for the crush to be delivered (on a trailer – driver was Ben from Southwest Tractors – delivery was included in the price of the crush) and another neighbour to be on hand with his front-end loader with forklift attachment in place. Here you can see the crush being lifted from the trailer.

Our neighbour very kindly stayed around and helped us position and anchor the crush. It’s quite amazing just how much practical knowledge long term experienced farmers have, and we were most grateful for the assistance.

The equipment we had on hand to install the crush included:
  • Generator for power
  • Industrial concrete drill and bit (borrowed from another neighbour)
  • Air compressor and fitting for blowing air at high pressure (to clean out the holes drilled in the concrete)
  • Various other hand tools such as a crow bar, block, spanners etc.
  • WD 40 for lubricating the drill holes
  • Bolts suitable to screwing into the holes through the base plates on the crush. These were 12 mm X 100 mm and cost over $5 each.
Holding Yard Fence Repairs
It proved both opportune and appropriate to renovate the northern fence-line of the holding yard. Some of the steps included:
  • Replace the wooden strainer post that the long gate at the western end hangs from with a steel strainer post and stay. Our handyman welded the gudgeon and hinge used (both with some amendments) with the wooden post onto the steel post as well as a lug on the other side of the post to anchor the stay.
  • Cut the fence to create a space for the entrance gate to the Main pen of the yard. A new steel strainer post and stay were installed.
  • Remove a wooden fence post. (Both wooden posts were lifted out of the ground by David Troth using his Bobcat.)
  • Star posts along the fence-line lifted where necessary
  • New hinge joint installed
  • Barbed wire removed and replaced with plain wire
  • Both steel strainer posts were concreted into the ground using left over concrete from the slab order
  • Large rock placed to support the long gate when opened to the north.
The result is that the fence, posts and gates are now in much better condition and should not need further repair for quite some time. We left the two strainer posts much longer than necessary, allowing for later heightening of the fence to make it more cattle proof if necessary. Here is a photo of the repaired northern holding yard fence, taken from inside the sheep yards.

Final Tasks to Complete the Yards
We arranged for the local welding specialist to call again and weld some lengths of 50 X 75 RHS onto the front of the crush together with lugs to act as anchor points for the two gates in parallel leading to the sliding gate where the loading ramp will go in time.
The land where this sliding gate goes was lower than desirable so we moved some blue metal that had been left near the water bore site in the Arch Paddock onto the spot and leveled it off.

There were a couple of other tasks necessary to get the crush in working order:
  • Installation of a length of rope that when pulled releases the lock on the front doors
  • Spraying of WD 40 on all of the moving parts

We are very pleased with the overall set-up and found that the yards worked to expectation when marking calves yesterday morning. The only unexpected challenge came from having two of our calves who have no fear of us, and we found the size of their flight zone to be smaller than our own area of personal space!

No comments: