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Custom Stockyards: Tips to improve your operational productivity and efficiency

So you’ve taken the plunge. Deciding to upgrade your facilities is a huge investment. Making the leap to upgrade and install new custom stockyards is an exciting prospect for the future of your enterprise. Given the current market trends and climate, there’s never been a better time to upgrade to a custom stockyard facility.

Unfortunately, older infrastructure is not only unsafe and stressful on operators and animals, it also wastes time and can turn normal husbandry jobs into dreaded chores. Productivity is compromised, work becomes harder and slower. Worse still, poor setups result in avoidable operator and animal injuries and stress.

We’ve got some tips to get the best possible results out of your custom stockyard facility.

Get the best results: Custom stockyards will dramatically improve stock handling capabilities

So, why a custom design? It’s essential, because every situation is unique. You have many decisions to make, such as whether you’ll include old infrastructure like yards and or a shearing shed, how much flexibility is required, handling equipment and optimal stock flow, through to latches, gates and manways that will suit your needs.

Visit other producers, particularly anyone who has upgraded their yards recently. You’ll be surprised at the technological advances in stock handling facilities over the years.

Consider the advice of industry experts. ProWay Livestock Equipment has over 20 years’ experience in designing and constructing facilities for livestock producers. The company uses surveying and satellite technology and computer aided design (CAD) for planning and drafting: you can see your ProWay stockyards laid out on your property and every detail of the construction. It’s easy to adjust these plans until you’re happy with the final design.

Once designed, your custom ProWay stockyards will be pre-fabricated in Australia, using Australian materials before they’re delivered to your property, saving precious time and avoiding operational interruptions. ProWay handles the installation too.

Nigel Kerin of Kerin Poll Merino said of his new ProWay permanent sheepyards:

“When your construction team gets on-site they’re very quick to erect. From go to whoa, you’d be surprised how quick you can have your shed and yards up.”

Let’s look at some considerations for your custom stockyard designs.

Investment in your equipment capabilities will provide benefits for decades.

Is an investment in custom stockyards worth it?

Consider that well-designed and constructed yards will last generations. They’re an investment that will value add to your property.
Estimate how many head of stock you’ll put through your yards over 50 years, with a single labour unit and half the handling time, then consider the productivity gains. Compare those with the productivity increases a cropper would achieve with a newer, larger sprayer for example.

While the labour and productivity gains will differ for each operation based on current efficiency levels, ProWay client report significant increases. Tom Ellis Jr of Coola Station produce 10,000 domestic trade lambs per year and reports:

“The numbers we put through it are so much greater because it’s so much easier. You maybe don’t drop a labour unit, but you do probably twice as much work in half the amount of time.”

Peter Durrant from New South Wales reports of his ProWay Custom stockyard setup:

“With the old yards I worked around when I’d wean the lambs and when Nat was free. It was that big a job. With the new yards, I had a mob of 220-30 ewes with a similar number of lambs at foot. I three way drafted them and it probably took 20 minutes with virtually no stress at all. The labour efficiency and stock-flow is a big time and cost-saving. In terms of enhancing stock flow it’s just first class.”

Another ProWay client, Stuart Hulme from New South Wales, articulates a common problem with poor infrastructure that has direct bearing on operational profitability:

“The reality of not having good infrastructure is that you end up not doing the right management at the right time.”

Having the right infrastructure in place not only provides efficiency gains and reduced labour costs, but it also improves stock handling tasks to make them safer for operators.

Grow as you go: custom stockyard designs provides flexibility and adjustability

No one has unlimited funds. Getting advice on essential infrastructure throughout will ensure you design for what you need now, and provide for future flexibility. If your budget is constrained, assess a phased approach.

Customised components, stock handling equipment and infrastructure can also provide greater efficiencies and work with existing infrastructure and processes with built-in capabilities to adjust for changes in stock breed, age and sex.

ProWay are industry leaders, always looking to take previous experiences, feedback and RnD and to improve their craft. Stuart Hulme, of Holbrook in NSW, said of working with ProWay:

“I always had plenty of faith in ProWay that they knew what they were doing. When it comes to building new facilities, you have to have trust in the people you’re working with.”

When Nigel Kerin decided on custom permanent sheep yards, it was a “no-brainer”. His investment rationale:

“I don’t consider the yards as that expensive and if you take the approach ‘I can’t afford them now’ more than likely in 10 years you still won’t have them. You have to just bite the bullet.”

“It might seem a big lump sum to put in the yards, sheds, earthworks, and plumbing and all that, but your payback time is not that long.

If you break down the cost over the amount of sheep you put through over their lifetime, it’s a logical investment. Once they’re built, you’ll never look back, you’ll enjoy doing stockwork every time”.

Your new stockyard design can combine what’s working with what you need

Planning and design takes time. While it is strongly recommended you work closely with a supplier developing a plan that works best for your operation and budget, you can begin by considering what’s working well for you, what you wish to keep (even if it needs upgrading) and what you need.

A good set of yards and the benefits from using them will last decades – but location and site preparation are absolutely critical first steps. Consider good drainage, roof cover, orientation to weather and sunlight, proximity to power, water and air, ease of access from all parts of the property, position of the shearing shed, dip and truck access, laneways and existing infrastructure.

Make a list of the stock operations which are currently stressful and dangerous. Especially when planning custom stockyards, there is a necessity to provide efficient and safe handling, optimal OH&S, and animal welfare standards. Stock needs to move well in the yards with minimal stress and bruising and operators must be able to safely carry out husbandry tasks.

Low stress stock handling and safety are important considerations especially when considering the involvement of younger family members or less experienced staff.

For example, loading stock can be stressful and can result in injuries. ProWay can custom design your ramp, adding elements like access walkways, which may well provide perfect solutions.

Known stock handling equipment issues can be addressed by a custom design. Talk to the experts at ProWay. Others will have had similar problems, and innovative solutions likely already exist or can be built upon. Consulting experts is critical to helping you develop and add your ideas, and help you think and plan for the long-term.

Include stock handling and management improvements

Consider designing custom stockyards for improvements in your operation as well as for essential needs. What elements could you include in a custom design to increase productivity?

You may want to implement technological improvements or stock handling equipment to address known issues or problems. Extra workstations can create greater efficiencies. For example, a ProWay Bulk Handler  will improve stock flow and handling efficiency, reduce labour required and make working with sheep physically easier and safer. Dual and Adjustable Races provide added flexibility.

Implementing electronic Identification (eID) makes tracking and managing your sheep easier, which improves outcomes in animal health and profits. New data collection equipment uses WIFI to operate tag readers as well as scales, so you don’t need to worry about a mass of cables everywhere.

The uptake of eID in sheep is well and truly underway. Combined with body and fleece weight monitoring, condition scoring etc, a lot of the guesswork from sheep management is removed. Well-designed sheep yards incorporate the tools required for increasing productivity, without sacrificing safety for animal or operator.

Practical solutions and increased profitability

Custom stockyard designs may well provide practical solutions to challenges which have been frustrating you for years and provide significant gains to the profitability of your operation. Reducing the time to complete husbandry tasks means stock return to grass quicker, and staff are happy, safe and enjoy working in your facility.

Once your new yards are installed, you can look forward to years of enhanced productivity and an efficient day-to-day operation. A custom stockyard solution will factor in your considerations, and ProWay will always capitalise on previous projects, industry feedback from similar experiences and RnD to ensure you get the best possible long-term solution for your enterprise.

ProWay customer Stuart Hulme from New South Wales sums up the investment in new sheep yards:

“If you went back 50-100 years, the labour force was probably five times or more. These days it’s been pared down right to bare bones. So you really do need to have facilities and systems in place that allow you to do the work yourself.

Before our new facilities, it was hard to do the job at the right time and required more person-power. Now we’ve been able to reduce our labour requirements and improve animal welfare.

If you are lacking in infrastructure or you’ve got infrastructure that is sub-standard that is making your job harder, you really want to consider doing this. It is absolutely worthwhile.”