Stock flow and labour efficiency while handling large mobs of sheep were high on the list when it came to updating the historic Coola Station yards.
The original sheep yards on the South Australian property date back to a design from around the 1850s, and back onto the iconic Mt Gambier limestone shearing shed.
The shed was originally built in 1891 with stands for 32 blade shearers, but now has eight stands in use and can house 1600 sheep under cover.
Working with such large numbers of sheep, an efficient set of sheep yards was a priority for father and son operators, Tom Ellis Snr and Tom Ellis Jnr.
Mr Ellis Jnr is the 5th generation to come back to the family farm and took over management of the sheep operation 6 years ago.
Set in a 700mm rainfall zone, the 4000ha property comprises sandy loam soils supporting a steer fattening and prime lamb enterprise.
Of the self-replacing flock of 14,000 maternal composite ewes, 30 per cent are joined to Oaklea composite rams for replacements and 70 per cent to Bethelrei Poll Dorset rams for terminal production.
Coola Station produces 10,000 domestic trade lambs a year at 18-26kg carcass weight, or 16-20 weeks of age.
Since taking over management of the sheep side of the Coola Station operation, Mr Ellis Jnr has elected to install a custom designed ProWay stock management system with a capacity to hold 7000 sheep.
“Since the ProWay yards have been put in, everything seems to flow evenly”
“Our older yards were in a bit of a rack and ruin and we were at a cross road, where we would need to do a fair bit of work to the existing yards which were there, or take a step back and re-design it to make it more labour efficient”
Both Tom Snr and Jnr played a pivotal role in the design process.
“We wanted the new design to feature ease of stock flow and management,’’ Mr Ellis Snr said.
The yards feature a 13m long, 0.6m wide double, curved working race with guillotine and tumble swing gates.
A ProWay serpentine drafting race has a three way manual draft and place for an auto drafter. While Tom Jnr explains how strategically placed diamond yards allow for stock to be moved between up to 10 holding yards.
“There’s a huge amount of flexibility through the diamond yards, especially if you’ve got two or three different mobs, like shorn to unshorn sheep in the same yards.”
The sheeted rotary force has a lift-up rotary and air-operated guillotine gate for feeding the sheep through a curved race to a Racewell handler.
“The rotary force has been a huge advantage to us, especially when it comes to scanning and individual weighing”
“The ewes flow through it exceptionally well and we can vaccinate in the curved race prior to scanning” Mr. Ellis Jnr said
“This effectively cuts back on labour as we don’t need to bring them around again.”
Ewes are pregnancy scanned in March into early and late multiples, and singles.
“Animal welfare is probably the leading factor that made us upgrade our facilities.”
“The spin off for that is labour efficiencies for us.” Said Mr Ellis Snr
Tom Jnr agrees with the benefits of the updated stockyards,
“The numbers we put through it are so much greater because it’s so much easier. I don’t think we drop a labour unit, but we do probably twice as much work in half the amount of time.”