Sheep, Sheep Handling
Sheep handlers that catch and hold your sheep with innovative weighing and drafting technology make it easy for one person can do the work of a team. You can process higher numbers of stock each day with less sweat and with greater accuracy.
Statistics NZ data identifies farmers as an ageing demographic and sheep farmers have long accepted the inevitability of bad backs and knees, the result of wrestling stubborn sheep through the yards.
Your age and level of fitness are of less significance when a sheep handler takes over the heavy work for you. A sheep handler can offer many time and labour efficiencies meaning you need less staff and there’ll be less injuries. Your days in the yards will be easier with much less human and animal stress. Smart and accurate data takes the guesswork out of production and allows you to consistently produce stock that achieves market targets.
But not all automated sheep handlers are created equal.
The following 4 points will help you make an informed choice and identify the handler best suited to your specific requirements and farming operation.
Do you need a transportable sheep handler?
Consider first whether you need your sheep handler to be transportable. If you sheep work is generally done in one set of yards only, a stationary handler is a good and less costly option. ‘Stationary’ does not equate to ‘immovable.’ Look for a system which can be easily set-up and moved should your handler be needed elsewhere. Racewell Sheep Handlers have an optional purpose-built skid base that they can be bolted to so that you can use pallet forks to lift it onto your farm trailer.
A transportable, trailed sheep handler is best if you intend moving your handler frequently between yards and or from farm to farm.
Sheep handler trailer systems are designed to be towed behind your quadbike or farm ute. If you plan to move your sheep handler on public roads or long distances, then be sure the system you choose is up to the job. Many trailer systems for sheep handlers are not road-legal and have small tyres and no suspension. They might only be designed to travel short distances at slow speeds across farm. Make sure the wheels and tyres on the system you choose are sufficiently robust to handle bumpy farm tracks and uneven ground.
Check that the tyres are big enough to withstand road speeds of 90km per hour. If you travel on gravel roads, consider mud flaps. Road registration requires the trailer be fitted with taillights.
Damage due to travel stress can occur in some trailed systems. This risk of damage can be minimized by trailer design.
Some sheep handler trailer systems have the wheels fixed to the sheep handler in such a way that the handler’s frame acts as the trailer base. This configuration directly exposes the handler to vibration and movement during travel. Handlers with drafting gates and lead-up races that fold up to a compact size for towing such as the Clipex Sheep Handler are also at risk of road stress.
Below is a picture of a Clipex Sheep Handler packed up, and ready for transport. There are parts that need to be strapped down to prevent movement if you want to avoid damage due to road stress.
With a Racewell Trailer System, the handler is bolted onto, and fully supported by a separate trailer frame. Frames with un-sprung axles are available but axles with suspension ensure a smoother ride and less road stress. The drafting gates and lead-up race do not need to be folded up for transport which saves you time when packing up and setting up at the other end.
Below is a picture of a Racewell Sheep Handler with trailer system, parts of the machine are not packed up and are at less risk of damage during transport.
Choose a sheep handler with good access for crutching and footwork
Side tilt is a feature on many sheep handlers that makes jobs like crutching and foot inspection much easier. When comparing machines, you should find out how the side tilt is operated and released. Some machines will require you to push a button, other machines can be foot pedal or remote control operated.
Side tilt is also great for checking and trimming feet. By lifting the sheep up off the ground, you can more easily access feet without having to bend down to reach.
Find out if the machine you are looking at has proportional side-tilt control. You may not always need your animals tilted over 90 degrees, and proportional tilt means you can tilt as much or as little as you want. Sheep are calmer and less likely to kick when they are tipped over on an angle approx. 40 degrees. Proportional tilt allows you to adjust the position of the Sheep in the most comfortable working position for you the operator.
Racewell Sheep Handlers have proportional tilt so you can just tilt as needed, but Clipex Sheep Handlers have no proportional control, and the tilt goes all the way over. A side tilt that goes all the way over in one push of a button can also be a safety hazard if accidentally triggered.
A crutching flap is a part of the clamp wall that comes up at the push of a button to give you even better access for crutching and dagging. This feature is now included on all Racewell Sheep Handlers that have side tilt. This innovation is only on Racewell Sheep Handlers and it gives you the best access for crutching including up the belly and improved access for foot work. Watch this video to see it in action.
How easy is it to operate a sheep handler?
When you invest in a Sheep Handler you want to make sure that it is easy to use. There are many different types of sheep handlers on the market. The most basic sheep handler will just catch sheep with manual control buttons while a fully automated sheep handler has electronic sensors to auto catch sheep and can be integrated with your scale system to also auto weigh and auto draft.
Ideally you want the operation of your sheep handler to be as hands free as possible – so that your hands can be busy drenching or crutching or checking your animals without needing to worry about buttons and switches.
Some machines have only manual push button controls while others have foot pedals and wireless remote controls as well. Remote and foot pedal controls help to free up the operator’s hands to use handpieces or drench guns. Foot pedals and remotes don’t always control all functions so make sure you investigate what you can control with them.
Pictured above is the control panel on a Racewell HD4 Sheep Handler, the current models all have a spacious control panel layout with large dust proof switches. These switches are an upgrade on previous models that had toggle switches that were sometimes accidentally bumped during use.
A remote control and foot pedal is standard on Racewell Sheep Handlers. The remote operates all functions; clamp, release, drafting gates and side tilt. The Racewell foot pedal is a compact design that can slide under the unit, so it is out of the way and is not a trip hazard when not in use. The foot pedal controls the clamp, release, and side tilt functions.
Some other brands of sheep handlers have much more compact control panels. If buttons and switches are too close together it can make it hard to find the right one in a hurry or without looking.
Do you want a sheep handler that can weigh and draft?
Most sheep handlers can be fitted with load bars for weighing sheep and have optional drafting gates however, they are not all created equal when it comes to weighing accuracy and ease of drafting.
Some Sheep Handlers will weigh more accurately than others. Load bars are mounted underneath the sheep clamp, so it is important that the whole sheep is on the weigh platform. If the sheep has a foot off either end then the weight could be inaccurate.
Racewell Sheep Handlers have adjustable sensors for automatically catching sheep. They can be moved to adjust where the sheep is positioned in the clamp when caught, so if you want to crutch them you can catch them further back for better access. The automatic sensors offer a very reliable and consistent catch position which helps to ensure weighing accuracy. Racewell Sheep Handlers also have optional weigh platform extensions that further minimize the risk of a sheep having a foot off the weigh platform – even when you have the catch position set towards the back for easy access for dagging.
Some sheep handlers have parts that are prone to interfering with the load bar accuracy. For example, the Combi-clamp sheep handler has an operator platform that sits on top of the load bars. The weight of the platform and operator is zeroed out on the scale however many people find that the weights vary in accuracy depending on where on the platform the operator stands.
A sheep handler with drafting gates gives you the ability to separate your sheep into different mobs such as lambs and ewes or lights and heavy’s etc. Some sheep handlers have manual drafting gates with handles or levers that you pull to move the gate from one side of the race to the other. Other options are operated via a bottom on the control panel, remote control or foot pedal.
Automatic drafting on your sheep handler makes your job even easier and much more efficient if you’re working with large mobs. When integrated with your scale system you can choose what gate you want each sheep to exit through based on a number of different options such as weight, EID/RFID tag information and more.
Why should you get a sheep handler?
Finding experienced labour on farm can be difficult, particularly when it comes to working with livestock. By investing in a quality Sheep Handler, you’ll make sheep handling easier and your staff will be more efficient, less likely to get injured and more likely to stay working for you.
Improved throughput, reduced physical effort, safer operation and less stress for the animal and worker in the yards are just a handful of improvements a well setup Sheep handler can offer. Achieving these benefits usually relies on both optimal placement of the handler in the yards, but also requires a lead-up race and forcing pen that will feed the handler with fewer personnel.
Purchasing a sheep handler is a major financial decision and not one to be undertaken lightly. Good after-sales service is imperative so talk to farmers who already own the brand you are considering. Ask about ease of use, safety, durability, fitness for purpose and impact on the farm’s bottom line.
While purchase price is a consideration, it should not be the deciding factor. As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.’