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Saturday 17 September 2011

You want to what? How many?

Humble beginnings, fattening pastoral stores on contract.
In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned we fell into depoting sheep for exporters. Purely by accident, we went from contract fattening a thousand or so store pastoral sheep, to holding up to twenty thousand head at at a time for quarantine and inspection by AQIS. This wasn't a steep learning curve, it was a vertical cliff face, but one we have manged to scale, and scale successfully. Five years on and we have done about 350 000 sheep, and still managed to get engaged, elope and get married. For those of you who end up phoning marriage councillors after drafting 200 wethers, all I can suggest is that standing at the draft gate expecting the sheep to run towards you as you scream advice to your helpers (wife) is never going to win you brownie points.

I won't bore you with the process of getting the feedlot approved by AQIS. Needless to say it involved a lot of paperwork. We needed to write a Procedures Manual, something that outlines how we will run the place in accordance with the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock, or ASEL. Fortunately, the cattle depot down the road, Coolina, owned by the late Rob Powel, were kind enough to show us theirs. With my expierence in drawing up government tenders while at the boat builders, which as led me to firmly believe that submissions for government tenders are awarded by the weight of the document, not the content, we were able to cobble something together which they were happy with. But each time the Standard is updated, we have to update our manual accordingly and send it off again to comply. Paperwork is very important to AQIS.

As the paperwork was being shuffled back and forth, we set about building the feedlot. We already had four pens where we were just using self feeders. We needed some feed troughing, and found a simple design using square tubing and poly urethane sheeting. Just make a frame and tek screw the belting to it. Every 250mm or so. Along both edges. Happy days. The troughs were 24 metres long, and with the extra twelve pens we were building, that came to about 384 metres of belt that need to be teked down. Naturally, I volunteered to make and weld the frames, while Mike, my father-in-law, volunteered to drive the post whanger with an offsider. So that left Gemma, her mum Helen, and another offsider to assemble the frames and attach the belting.

Taking a breather
While this was going on, somebody, namely me, got the bright idea of making all the steel gates. At this stage, we were a bit worried about how much work we might get, so we tried to do as much ourselves as we could. After a few calculations I figured we could make the gates cheaper than what we could buy them. Which is probably true if you only value your time at about 50 cents per hour. But make them we did, and after what seemed like endless hours crouched over the welder tacking on weld mesh and bending up pipe, we ended up with 24 sparkly new gates. Now we just had to hang the bastards. If you've already read the yard bulding post, you may have gathered I don't like hanging gates. This is why.

Since we were mainly expecting to depot goats, we built the feedlot based on what we knew about them. Which at that stage, was that they are mad, they wreck everything, eat anything and walk through fences like the T-1000 in Terminator II walks through iron prison bars.  So after a bit of research, namely the Waratah catalogue, we ordered a pallet of 8-90-15 Ringlock, and a stack of barb wire. For those not familiar with ringlock, it is prefabricated wire netting, and the numbers indicate the number of horizontal wires, the height of the fence and the distance between the vertical wires, so 8-90-15 has 8 wires, is 90 cm high and 15 cm gaps in the vertical wires. This stuff is one step down from the chainlock security fences used in town. The barb wire was to go around the bottom, with the ringlock on top, giving us a solid fence about 1.1 metre high. When we, and by we I mean Gemma (I was welding gates, honest), whacked in the steel pickets, they also left one hole spare in case we needed to put a barb on top too, because the old guys in the pub told us goats are mongrels to keep in.

Never believe anything you hear in a pub. About two years after building the feedlot, MLA put out a publication called Going into Goats. It is a beginners guide for all things goaty, based mainly around producers experiences. In the section under yard and fence design, the first thing you read in big bold letters is do not use fencing with small squares, as little goats love to push their heads through, only to get stuck with their tiny horns acting like natural one way valves. Which by this time, we already knew. Young ram lambs also like to push their heads through, as do young wethers, young ewes and basically anything else that has enough strength to force their heads through what is a seemingly impossibly small gap, only to be stuck there until we walk around each morning setting them free. After winter is the worst, they all try to get the green feed in the tree lanes and laneways. But even in summer, there seems to be one stubborn sheep determined to get it's head stuck, even though the bare patch of dirt on the other side is eactly the same as the bare patch of dirt on his side.

Before any of the fencing could go in though we needed to run the new water lines. Twelve new troughs arrived, and after five minutes with the shovel, we went into town and hired a little ride on trencher. Two days solid that thing chipped away at the dirt, remembering, this was 2006. The dirt was last wet in October 2005 sometime. They are magic little machines, one of the first things on my Lotto shopping list. As soon as Gemma buys the right ticket. Eventually the pipe was laid, and we could set up the form work for the trough pads. Living close to Geraldton has it's advantages, one phone call and a cement truck was out the next day. All the pads where poured in an afternoon and the troughs were sitting on them the day after.

Working yards were a worry. We had already added to our little set once or twice, but needed to do a bit more work to be able to handle the numbers we were hoping for. So I drew up a set of plans to put out for a quote. The trouble with drawing things up is it's very easy to just add in a few things. A loading race here, a work race there, better make it a double work race, geez a four way draft would be handy. We got the quote back and when I could breath again we phone the old fella Roger, who was lining us up to depot for him. He suggested just building some new loading yards, adding a few pens to our existing yards and that should do for now. Which is exactly what we did.

The new loading yards, complete with shine.

The guy that came out to build the new yards was brillant. Joe, the sales rep, told us all he needs is a shed with power, and somewhere to shower. He pulled up in his little van and we showed him the shearing shed, which he was happy with. He then proceeded to unload from his little van two tables, two chairs, an esky, a radio, a suitcase, kettle, cooking gear and a box with his dishes, and a bucket for washing up in, all of which I had no idea how he got in his van. Once set up, he said "I suppose I'd better go unload my gear up at the new yards," which I took to mean he was going back to get his gear then unload it. I dón't know if you watch Dr Who, but this guys van must've been made like the Tardis, small on the ouside, but acres on the inside. He drove straight to the site and then pulled out a cement mixer, a wheelbarrow, bag after bag of blocks and enough shovels dig to China. The poor fellow though was overwhelmed. In the week he was here, we had a new 150 000 litre water tank installed, a truck with three mobile loading ramps arrive, two new 2900 bushel feed silos delivered and installed, a new auger dropped off, and our first delivery of sheep, about 4000 head. He reckoned he was heading back to Perth to get away from the traffic.

Our first big job, 14 500 sheep.
Since those early days we have added more feed troughs, resurrected the old shearing shed, (something we swore we would never do) and converted it from two stand to a five stand. We added sprinklers to the old yards, finished off the new yards completely, with new sprinklers as well. And upgraded from the little four ton feed cart to a ten tonne chaser bin. The key to it all is it has to be easy as it can be. When there are eleven thousand sheep to unload in a day, you don't want to be fighting with gates. When there are fifteen thousand to feed that eat around a kilgram a day, thats alot of troughs and feeders to fill. Everyone has a job to do and we know how to do it, but never did we expect to be as busy as we have been. We must be slightly nuts, as both Gemma and I enjoy the work, while our nieghbours shudder everytime they look over the fence. 


Becky said...

Was it Joe from Prattley?

We have ringlock here which is silly with the Wiltshire Horns, they are bound to get stuck everytime one of them thinks of poking it's head through the fence.

Michael said...

Hi Becky, Joe was from Cyclone, lovely Irish Fellow.