Stockyards Rebuild – Part II

Work has continued on our improved stock yards, albeit a little slower after my father returned home.  I was really happy with the new layout, but had a bit of work to finish the yards, and make them suitable for handling sheep as well as cattle.

The design of cattle yards world wide was revolutionised by Temple Grandin.  She recognised that cattle move much more effectively along a curved chute.  She also realised that if the yards are visually solid, the cattle are far more likely to move towards open areas.  It is hard to incorporate all her ideas in such a small set of yards, but we tried as much as possible to follow her philosophy in our design.

The yards are a mixture of panels, with various shapes and sizes bought at different times.  We were able to re-use all the panels – although at times we had to get a bit creative to get the joining pins in place.  My main focus was to ensure the exterior sections of the yards were stock proof, and in the areas that would receive the most pressure, I fixed the conveyor belt to the panels.

Fortunately I had an old length of conveyor belt in the ‘resource centre’ that could serve two purposes.  It will provide a visual barrier for the cattle and a physical barrier to keep the sheep, especially lambs, in the yards.  Unfortunately the belt is extremely heavy to work, but once it is unwound, it becomes a little more manageable.

The supervisor wasn’t much help!  Although to be fair, the afternoon sunshine was rather soporific.

The holding yard was another story.  We created a large yard using panels and weld-mesh.  Weld-mesh is not ideal for yards.  Horned stock can get their horns caught in it, and younger cattle and sheep can get their feet and legs tangled also.   But in this yard, the stock will not be subject to the same pressure they are in the holding yard, and again we used curved lines as much as possible to encourage the stock into the forcing yard with minimal fuss.  The mesh was fixed to the panels using tie-wire.

It is a lot better than the gates held together with bailing twine that were used to form this yard originally.

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And so, what do the stock think of it?  The Little Helper and I only rammed in the last anchor a couple of days ago, so we haven’t got around to testing the improved yards yet.  I have continued to move the cattle every week or so to a new area, and they are really responding well to a gentle nudge – but it will be a few more weeks until I have them back in that part of the farm.

It is a relief to know that if we do need to bring the sheep or cattle into the yards for any reason, we now have a safe and secure place to work them.

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New (kind of) Stock Yards

Owners of livestock must be able to handle their animals safely, and one of the most effective ways to do this is with a set of stock yards.

Yards typically used to be made with whatever material was at hand.  We visited these old yards in northern South Australia a couple of years ago.  The yards were made with Cypress Pine hauled from the Flinders Ranges, and the wires were old telegraph line.  The cattle were mustered into a square yard. If stock were to be handled, horsemen would rope the cattle and they would be brought to the Bronco Rail for marking.

The steel yards on the Rock Farm might be much more modern, however due to a number of reasons, they were in need of a major overhaul.  Before the cattle arrived, it had taken me several hours, lots of grease and much motivation with a hammer to get the crush to operate.  The yards had been placed on the ground with little consideration to levels, and whilst the basic layout was sound, I wanted to update the yards to ensure many more years of safe and low stress cattle handling.

With a short notice visit from my parents announced, the time to re-design the cattle yards arrived.  My father has years of experience in the beef industry, including designing cattle yards.  It was the perfect opportunity to harness his experience and my brawn… well the tractor’s brawn.

We had a good look at the existing layout.  My proposed design sketches were quickly discarded as I hadn’t taken into account the simple fact the crush is worked from the left hand side.  I had designed yards with a clockwise movement that made it difficult to operate the crush.  We agreed that an anti-clockwise movement of the cattle was far more suitable.  I also studied the NSW DPI page on Cattle Yard Design, but ultimately it came down to a simple examination of the materials at hand, and the site available.

The first stage was dismantling the existing yards.  This involved removing a few pins and many cobb and co wire hitches.  With a collection of mis-matched panels and various old gates, it was an interesting exercise.

Once we had removed the old yards, we spend a long time digging out and leveling the ground, appreciative of the tractor doing most of the heavy work.  Cattle will naturally run uphill, so the slope on this site isn’t a problem.  What we needed to do was make the slope consistent through the length of the crush and race.  With the slope consistent, we started re-assembly, again using the heavy lifting ability of the tractor.

Reassembly took a lot longer than I thought.  We have managed to get most of the panels to line up, but the hard work is getting the sleeves for the pins to align.  We had to grind off a couple of the sleeves to make the panels fit, all made slower due to a few hours lost fixing the pull-starter on the generator.

We concentrated on getting the drafting gates, crush, race and forcing yard all aligned and in-situ.  We found an old balustrade in the ‘resource centre’ which we cut up to manufacture new pins and anchor pegs in lieu of too many cobb and co hitches.  The main section of the yards are pretty much fixed now, and are much more solid that the previous version.

We still have work to do on the holding yard, and I hope to get onto this in the near future.  The final component will be to put a sight barrier on the yards.  This will remove distractions and help move the cattle around the yards.  I also hope it will make the yards sheep proof, so I don’t need to build a second set of yards for the sheep.

And what do the stock think of all this effort?  At present I am still a few weeks away from getting the yards ready for stock work.  The cattle are busy mowing and mulching our small horse paddocks.  The sheep seem to hang around in this area too, happily making their way around the farm as they seek the sweetest grass.  Some of the ewes are getting quite heavy with lamb, and I will need to have the yards ready to vaccinate the ewes soon.  Nothing like a bit of time pressure to finish a project!

Happenings on and above the Rock Farm

The dry autumn has allowed us to get on with a few necessary jobs on the Rock Farm.  One of the most pressing was to get on top of our Tree of Heaven (ailanthus altissima).  This tree forms dense thickets that out compete desirable trees.  I initially thought we had just a few trees, until I started cutting them down. I soon realised that I needed a comprehensive strategy to remove them.

I cut the majority of the taller trees down a couple of months ago, see here.  The follow up treatment was to spray the suckers.  This is not a treatment I enjoy or take lightly.  The NSW Weedwise app provided good advice  and I followed their recommended dose.

A few weeks later, the plants had the decency to look very sick.  I hope this wasn’t due to the cracking frost we had a few days earlier!  The chemical was applied using a backpack spray unit to the leaves of the suckers.  As I was only spraying the odd suckers, the chemical burden was far less than it would have been if I was spraying the entire trees.  I hope this is effective.

Another of those little challenges that comes from living on tank water popped up a couple of weeks ago.  Our potable water situation is a little complicated.  The house supply is gravity fed from a couple of 22 000 litre tanks that harvest water from our shed.  Water harvested from our house roof is stored in another 22 000 litre tank in our garden. There is a fall of some 15 metres between the garden and shed tanks, and I had no pump to transfer water from the garden tank up to the shed (house supply) tanks.

With little significant rain since Christmas, the inevitable happened, and one of our supply tanks ran dry.  Whilst swinging to the other tank was as simple as opening a valve, it was time to transfer some water from the full house tank in the garden to the supply tanks from the shed.

Whilst this is a pump I won’t use often, it was worth getting one that will start reliably.  Our last place had an ancient Honda pump that lived out in the weather and copped years of abuse without affecting its ability to start first pull.  I figured it was worth getting a genuine Honda engine driving a Davey pump to perform our duties of water transfer.  A little pump house made out of scrap timber and iron soon completed the task.

The other problem with the garden tank was the surrounding vegetation.  The tank was essentially smothered in a range of plants that made access difficult and contaminated the water supply with dead leaves.  It took three loads on the back of the old Merc, Myrtle to clear the space.  The prunings, along with some rotten hay bales, were put to good use in stabilising some gullies.

The cattle have settled in well.  We have continued to move them from paddock to paddock, and they seem to understand the game now, and appreciate moving to greener pastures.  I think the trick is to wait until they are hungry before moving them.  This means that they are far more likely to stick their heads down and start grazing as soon as they move out of their paddock, rather than disappearing over the furthest hill!

The paddocks where they have been ‘working’ are much cleaner, and the weeds are easy to find and pull out.  Now the growing season is well and truly over, the grass will remain dormant over winter.  I hope we have enough feed to get them through the cold weather,  and we will keep our fingers crossed for strong spring rainfall.

And for something completely different, the Little Helper has just completed a school project on the future of transport, in particular flying cars.  This was the perfect opportunity to make the most of the glorious weather and call up an old friend and take to the skies.

The young fellow was so excited to sit in the right hand seat and experience the thrill of flying.  Greg, our pilot made sure the Little Helper had an amazing experience, patiently explaining what he was doing and how the aircraft worked.

I really enjoyed doing a couple of circuits around the Rock Farm.  It was such a brilliant way to get a perspective of our property.  We could easily see the greener areas where moisture settles, and the effect of the shelter belts.

Even the Little Fisherman admitted he was excited for his younger brother, stating that The Little Helper’s flight was “legit cool”.

It was a whole heap of fun.  And sometimes that is the point. 🙂