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Friday 9 September 2011

Left a bit...back a bit..... thats it..........bugger.

When we first took over our new farm in 2005, the first most obvious job that needed doing was the sheepyards. Bits of weldmesh twitched onto rusty old steel pickets with the odd railway strainer concreted in. The design itself looked good, a nice bugle race and a big area for many pens, but one good fart sneeze and surely the whole would fall in a heap. So we bought a heap of new rolls of weldmesh and pipe with the promise of getting to it as soon as we can.

Five years later we thought we had better actually use some of the new rolls of weldmesh and pipe before they rust away in the sea air. The problem with the old yards is while they looked terrible, the bloody things worked too well. Sheep just fly through them, and we barely even used a dog in there for fear of them getting their legs caught in the rickety mesh. So long as we all followed the rules of not standing there, don't push them too hard in that spot, and keep a few bits of wire handy, we got through without too much trouble. In fact, I don't recall one broken leg at all.

But Gemma had had enough. Sick of twitching gates back on and re training everybody who gave us a hand, she asked me one day, "What have you got planned in the next few weeks?" Now this question always worries me. Do I say I'm busy and risk her buggering off out to the station again, or do I say I'm not and risk a list of house chores that Tim the Toolman would baulk at. I went with the latter, seeing as all the crops were sprayed and the urea was out, no ships were due into the feedlot and the books were up to date. "Good, because I'm pulling down these yards and we need them back up again in three weeks before the next weaning." Right. No worries. Should've gone with plan A.

It is a testament to the previous builders about their skills that it took Gemma only two hours with a set of wire cutters to demolish the yards. And a testament to her lack of faith in me that she only demolished a few of the worst sections, just in case we don't get them done. Which is good thinking on her part really, if I'm honest. So away we went, whanging in posts first. Our post whanger is fairly basic, with no side shift, so for a job like this you have to back it up on a dime, which is where this article's title comes from. But it beats digging holes and mixing concrete.

All the posts are in and the next step is the top rail, no big deal, just weld them on and measure and cut the last to fit. Then add a bit on because I've  cut too much off the last one. Bloody chinese tape measure. This is why I don't do woodwork.

Now comes the fun part, welding on the rolls of weld mesh. The rolls are designed to trap your fingers, I'm sure of it. As you unroll them the inside coils suddenly unwind like a yoyo on speed, only stopping when your knuckle refuses to give any further. Then once you do unroll it, all it wants to do is roll itself back up again, usually as you are walking along it trying to iron out the bumps. But we get it hoisted onto the rail and held there with clamps while I tack one end on. Then we hook the ringlock strainers on the other end, attach the come-along and start straining. This is where I hope my welds hold. Amazingly, they do, and and we go along welding to mesh to the rail and posts. Gemma holds with the pliers, I weld, we shuffle down three squares and repeat, only stopping when a splutter of slag lands in my ear or down my boot. As I only have one set of welding gloves, these are obviously on Gemma's hands.

Gates. Finicky bloody things they are. If the levels aren't right they won't open all the way back, and if the grounds uneven you have to raise them then lambs get under them. Plus you have to make sure you swing them the right way, which involves lengthy discussions of which way the sheep will run, where you are going to stand usually, and if any sheep would get stuck behind them. All of which is envitably wrong when you come to use them. Out comes the oxy cutter, or hot spanner as I like to call it, and I blow holes in the posts where the hinges are to go through. Feed the threads though, tighten up the nuts, one last check and the gates swung. Excellent, only five more to go. Weld on a few latches and jobs done.

Now for the test. Big dorper / damara cross ewes. If anything is going to break them these will. While we were in the fixing mood I put a bucket load of gravel in the draft race to fill in the were it had worn away. Turns out I should've only put in half a bucket load. It raised the floor to the perfect height that seemed to give the ewes an added incentive to jump. Gemma would swing the gate and the ewe would clear it. She would've been better off ignoring the gate and using a cricket bat to swat them either side as they came through. But at least we didn't have to worry about them flattening fences, only Gemma. Bravely, she stood her ground where most blokes would have chucked a tanty as the sheep came flying over head high. They needed to run around again for another seperate draft, so we swapped jobs, since I'm taller. The next days mob were much better, and not having to worry about mobs mixing or fences falling over makes the whole job much more pleasant. My advice to all those people out there with dodgey yards, and trust me, we've been contractors, we know you're out there, is to spend the time to fix up the worst bits. Buy a few chains and latches. A thousand dollars worth of steel is about ten sheep at todays prices. And don't do what we've just done and wait until you've listed the place for sale before you decide to fix the yards up a bit.


Alison Fairleigh said...

Reading your posts is so effortless Michael. You have such an easy, conversational manner in your writing. No wonder so many people are connecting with you. I look forward to each new post :-)

Janny said...

Yet again, a fantastic read, that we can really relate to. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Yep, can definetly see an Australian version of Footrot Flats in the making. Maybe Brad Pitt to play your part??

Raelene Hall said...

Another great blog Michael. Soon be able to give up the day job and become the mad writer in the attic!!!

Jacqui said...

Michael, you certainly have a wonderful talent of putting humour into the most mundane job.
And the clip of the draft in action - Poetry in Motion! You should write a book - I'd definitely buy it!

Becky said...

Very true, but given my husband is a yard designer I say don't fix up the bad bits unless you call him first ;)

Farmers Wifey said...

Your newest follower here!!! Nice to meet you!

John said...

Had a dog try to jump the Weldmesh sheep yards 5 years back and of course snap went one of the back legs.He had jumped it numerous times before but this time just happened to poke the leg through the 150X100 hole and in a blink over $1500 flew straight out of my bank account.But one thing it did prove was,dogs can teach themselves new he only uses the gate and flatly refuses the weldmesh jump.