When we bought Cheslyn Rise, we thought we had purchased a property with a really good, solid set of wooden cattle yards. It wasn't until we worked the cattle in the yards a few times that we realised there were a few problems with the layout. It is very important to have yards that are easy to work in, this leads to less stress for the cattle and the people, and makes the whole exercise safer.
Our new and old yards
The previous owner told us that he built the smaller wing of the yards first, and then he decided to add the larger wing. He has built some nice solid yards, but the layout isn't ideal. The result was the following issues:
The race is up the middle of the yards, so there is no safe place for people to stand while working in the yards
The large yard was too big, the cattle just circle the yard and don't go where you want them to go
The only way to get the cattle into the race was to drive them across the race from the large yard to the small yard and then into the forcing yard, which is very disruptive and means that there is effectively no holding yard, all yards are combined and some cattle have to go through the race several times
Modern yards now have the race going around the outside, and the crush before the loading ramp, so you can draft cattle out of the yards or back into the yards if needed. Unfortunately, this would have been a major modification to our yards, and as the current structur was sounds, we decided to work with what we already had and try to improve the layout to make them safer and easier to use.
The first change we made was to add a gate on the forcing yard so that it could be accessed from the large yard. This meant that we didn't have to drive cattle through the top of the race. However, they continued to circle the large yard, so we knew we had to do more to improve the yards.
Our first trial was to build a small holding yard using portable panels that Pete made for our tame cattle. They are a bit small and flimsy for the Brafords, but it allowed us to try the design without spending much extra. We used the yard to hold the weaners, and also to break up the larger yard. This was an improvement, but still not as good as it could be.
The cattle yards before we modified them (click to enlarge)
The cattle yards with the portable panels (click to enlarge)
We visited a friend's yards and thought about the layout of the sale yards, both have lots of gates and are very easy to use, the cattle have no option but to go where you want. We decided to buy more heavy-duty panels and add extra gates to our yards. We measured the yard and sketched it out so that we could work out how many panels and gates we would need. I'll give Pete full credit for coming up with this design, I did have some ideas, but they're not worth sharing! Pete's concept was to create multiple smaller yards so that we could push the cattle around towards the forcing yard, but also with gates that could be closed that we could both work safely near the race.
We ended up buying the panels instead of making them, because, sadly, you can buy them cheaper from China than you can buy the metal to make them, and it saved Pete about a week of work. We picked them up from near Toowoomba, 20 of them stacked up on the ute, I don't think we could have squeezed another panel on there! They are good heavy-duty panels and we were able to arrange them as per Pete's design.
We also modified the wing that comes into our yards to make it easier to move the cattle into the yards. They previously had a tendancy to turn when they got to the gate, but now we have a long narrow paddock leading up to the yards, so if we bring in a round bale of hay to lure them, and then close the gate to that paddock, they have no choice but to move into the yards for us when we push them down the paddock.
We found the new deisgn worked really well and we were able to trap all the cattle using our new paddock. We felt a lot safer and the cattle moved more easily. We did get sick of going in and out of gates, but it was worth it, better than having all the cattle in the yard where you're working (some of them still have horns and we don't trust them).
We are pretty happy with the yards now, the only remaining modification is to build a smaller race for calves. We have a calf cradle that we bought secondhand, and we are still decided exactly where to install it. This will make branding and castrating safer for us and the calves.