Designing better balanced yards

31 Jul, 2009 10:20 AM
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WHEN it comes to cattle yards, an animal-friendly facility is also a people-friendly facility.

Getting the first part of the equation right requires a combination of successful facility design and handling techniques, as more than 350 producers saw firsthand when they attended a field day recently at the state-of-the-art cattle yards on John and Pam Seccombe's property, Kenya, near Muttaburra.

The event was organised by ProWay Prattley Livestock Equipment and hosted by the Seccombe family to give an informative and practical demonstration of modern methods of livestock handling and current advancements in yard design.

The event attracted a crowd of producers from across Queensland and interstate, who were eager to hear a presentation by guest speaker and international livestock handling expert Dr Temple Grandin.

The Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University is a world leader in the design of livestock handling facilities and presented information on low-stress handling and yard design principles, many of which the Seccombes have incorporated into their operation and facilities.

Dr Grandin shared with the audience her designs for curved chute and race systems that are used in cattle handling facilities worldwide, along with handling techniques to improve animal welfare and productivity.

Her presentation at the field day focused initially on cattle behaviour principles, low stress handling using flight zones, and removing distractions from handling facilities that may baulk or obstruct animals, such as shadows, reflections, changes in flooring, moving objects and the incorrect positioning of people in the yards.

She then discussed design principles for maximising stock flow and facilitating low stress handling to ensure operator and animal safety in the yards.

Dr Grandin took the audience through several examples of curved yard layouts that are designed to manipulate natural stock flow.

She emphasised the correct use of solid sheeting in facilities, particularly on the outer radius of single file races and forcing pens to reduce flight zone and touched on common problems and incorrect design applications that could lead to an ineffectual handling facility.

"Equipment is one half of the equation and animal handling and management are the other half.

"A good facility will make handling that much easier," Dr Grandin said.

The field day provided the opportunity for producers to see Dr Grandin's theories in practice during a working demonstration of the Seccombes' state-of-the-art cattle yards.

Construction of the yards was completed in May 2008 to meet the new requirements of the Seccombe's operation, as they moved from predominantly a sheep and wool enterprise to beef production after purchasing their breeder block, Coralie Station near Croydon. The property's existing cattle yards, though still functional, were no longer sufficient to handle the stock numbers that the Seccombes were hoping to process at any one time, as they brought the progeny from their 3000 breeders at Coralie to Kenya for backgrounding.

The new yards are capable of holding up to 1400 head and processing 450 head an hour using only minimal labour.

The facility is designed to make cattle handling quicker and safer, incorporating features that promote stock flow, labour efficiency and operator safety, such as bugled yards that curve and narrow using a compression ratio that encourages animals to comfortably move through the processing area, the use of sheeting and curved races, elevated walkways and a cattle free working area that separates operators from stock. Prattley's Queensland designer, Damien Halloway, who designed the yards to meet Mr Seccombe's specifications, walked the crowd through the facility's design features that manipulate natural stock flow principles and facilitate low stress handling.

He said the Kenya yards were a good representation of how and why these principles work and a true advertisement of what Prattley had to offer northern livestock producers.

The crowd also had the chance to see the latest autodrafting, weighing and animal identification technology in action during the demonstration.

The Seccombes required a facility that was animal friendly, with nothing that would injure or bruise cattle, but labour efficiency was also paramount for the family run enterprise.

Efficient design and labour saving equipment has achieved this objective and it now only takes three people to work 1000 head in the yards, using remote controlled automatic handling technology to process animals through a pneumatically operated working area and auto-draft module that allows the operator to draft up to five ways on a range of indicators, such as weight, sex, sire, or origin.

Over 10,000 head of cattle have been processed through the yards since construction was completed.

Mr and Mrs Seccombe’s son Geoff, who runs Coralie Station with wife Taryn, said the facility was crucial to their cattle enterprise as the main processing centre for the two operations.

“All our weaners are processed here and we’ve been able to design the yards from scratch to meet our own needs,” he said.

“The facility has made a huge difference because we don’t need to employ any staff to make our operation work. Because we can now handle 1000 head in a day, we can bring the whole mob in, work them and get them back out and into the paddock eating.

“And, as Temple said, they flow through the yards and they’re stress-free. You’re not taking weight off your cattle with a good set of yards like this.”

Geoff said the practical nature of the field day was the key to its success.

“Everyone saw the cattle work through the yards and I think the live, working field day and Dr Temple Grandin’s presentation were real drawcards for so many people.”

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