It’s not often I need to sign in when I visit a farm. This one though is very different. Bruce had invited me to see Austrex’s 78ha Quarantine block complete with some of Te Pari’s biggest stockyards working at full capacity. With his staff, Asure Quality and vets from China and New Zealand all busy with the Austrex dairy heifer export business it was a real buzz to see how well they handled the heifers. Hygiene and restriction of any foreign diseased matter are paramount so all visitors have to be checked in as well as the checking of the 15month heifers bound for the burgeoning dairy farm business in mainland China.

I’d been keen to look over a quarantine block and find out more about our dairy business with China and was fortunate to meet a couple of senior Chinese vets who were overseeing the project. Through Bruce’s Chinese interpreter Rena I was able to chat with them. It was both enlightening and heartening. The Fontera scare it seems has not put a dent in their [China’s] enthusiasm for anything NZ in fact one said they were impressed by NZ’s honesty in reporting it and how we handled it. Also and for Te Pari they said how great these yards and equipment were. “Easy it easy see why stock like much them so”. That was the translation. I got the drift.

As you can see from the photos Austrex [Australian Rural Exports] have an important and large business here in NZ exporting quality heifers to China. Austrex a Queensland based company exports 70 to 80 thousand cattle annually around the world, particularly the Asian region, with significant numbers coming from northern Australia, mainly Brahman.

The first and most obvious feature of the Te Pari yards is the impressive cover over the race and crush area. Bruce told me it was mainly constructed from a Hayshed that had been demolished by high winds on his Kurow farm. The metal framework and light panels in the roof made it an airy place to work both protecting from summer sun and winter rain and wind. “We had to site it carefully so none of the supports interfered with the yards; I think we’ve got it about right”.

One of the biggest set of yards Te Pari build, these Austrex ones are designed to work with 500 stock though the first thing I noticed was that they seemed lower than I was used to. “You’re right they are one bar lower and that’s because we only ship 12-15 month heifers. It was both cheaper to build and more importantly allows even better visibility of stock across the yards.

One of the challenges in picturing the yards from ground level is the sheer size and impossibility of getting a good photo of them all in. This was made even harder with the covered working area. So I focused on that working area.

“These yards are a huge investment; they’re not cheap, though they are a ‘cheap investment’ in terms of getting things done right first time every time. Yes they’re quicker than some I’ve used but ‘You’ll never get the last animal out ahead of the first’ and most importantly ‘they take all the grief out of stock handling”

For Bruce’s operation he doubled the race panel number from 5 to 10 standard panels and fitted blanking plywood on the outside of the race. This makes the stock run quieter and more easily, while the extra length taking it from 90 degrees to a 180 turn gives much more working area and lines up the crush and drafting area. “We liked the way Te Pari worked with us to achieve what we needed through optimal use of space and minimising the cost by keeping the number of panels down where we could. In the two years we’ve had them they have handled without any issues over 100,000 stock through them. That would be about 10 times what most this size would do”. Anything broken or damaged I asked “Yes the cables to the drafter frayed. We did a temporary fix till the new ones arrived from Te Pari. It was the next day though I think we put them on a week or so later. Otherwise they’ve been perfect”

One of the other things I noticed was the concrete surface which has a raised marbled effect. “That’s so we can wash it down easily with no sediment left in cracks as you’d get if you cut or roughened it. It’s both easier to clean meaning we keep the hygiene requirements and easier for us and the cattle to walk and grip onto. Another great idea that Te Pari gave us. We’ve concreted the whole yard area and put high pressure hoses at several points to make cleaning a breeze” he said.

“One of the most important design features about these yards is their flexibility. Each post is bolted into the concrete and can be unbolted and moved if we need to. So as the requirements change so can the yards as they are totally portable. Te Pari offers an excellent service and follow up so if and when we needed extra posts panels or gates they can be delivered onto the farm by the next day or so”

It was a busy day when I spoke to Bruce with 4000 heifers going through the yards to be tested by both the Chinese and New Zealand vets have blood samples taken weighed and EID checked. The operation was seamless with the 11 people working in the covered area up and down onto the raised deck you see in the photos. What did surprise me was the use of hand EID reader wands. After all I said to Bruce you could have the automatic reader in the crush or drafting race. “That’s right and for most farmers that will be a perfect solution, but we have to be assured of 100% accuracy and hand wands are the only way to do that. Race mounted ones are only 99.9% and for this business that’s not good enough. These animals head off shore from here and given the numbers involved one missed or misread is just not acceptable”

In answer to my question “Anything else you’d like to say” Bruce answered.

“These yards are a huge investment; they’re not cheap, though they are a ‘cheap investment’ in terms of getting things done right first time every time. Yes they’re quicker than some I’ve used but ‘You’ll never get the last animal out ahead of the first’ and most importantly they “take all the grief out of stock handling”

As I was about to leave Bruce told me these won’t be his last Te Pari yards. He and his wife Christine are building some on the home farm where the best spot for them has a solid rock base. “With Te Pari’s system it means it’s simple, lay the concrete, bolt the posts down, fit the panels and they’re done. There’s no comparison with digging or ramming a post particularly if you get it wrong! He chuckled.