Sheep-handling machines came into widespread use during the slump in wool prices in the early 1970s, and since that time many producers have sought to use sheep-handling equipment in an effort to reduce costs.
The principal advantages of a sheep handler are:
The guidelines presented here are intended to assist producers in selecting and using a sheep handler.
There is a range of design types in sheep handlers, which vary in complexity, construction and cost. There are three basic modes of operation:
Each design has its own strengths and weaknesses, being suited to particular applications.
The sheep handler has become a common item of plant for many sheep producers, and considerable cost savings can be made by their use. But these benefits can be negated by an inappropriate choice of design for your application, or by poor installation. The first step in selecting a handler is to be sure of what you wish to achieve with the machine:
Table 1 rates the types of handlers for various applications:
|Type of design||Crutch||Wig||Ring pizzle||Udder inspection|
Foot inspection and paring
|General husbandry(a)||Classing||Operator effort required|
|Race to cradle||***||**||***||***||**||*||*||most|
|Conveyor or elevator||**||***||**||***||**||***||**||least|
* Not well suited.
**Can perform operation (may need attachments).
*** Well suited to application.
(a) Includes operations like drenching, vaccinating and mouthing.
Most sheep handlers are not suitable for taking mid-side wool samples; however, conveyor-type handlers can be used for taking wool samples from hip or pin bone sites.
The sheep handler should be considered as part of the overall sheep-handling facilities on the property. Many handlers fail to achieve their full efficiency because they are not effectively incorporated into the yard or shed system.
For the handler to operate efficiently, the yards must supply a continuous flow of stock to the machine. The operator should have easy access to the sheep storage and forcing area to maintain the flow of sheep. Access for dogs is also important, but the approaching sheep must be screened from the operator and dogs.
Usually, the yards or shed will need to be modified to give satisfactory results. The usefulness of the installation can be greatly enhanced if shelter is provided by a skillion, or by placing the unit in the shearing shed. This allows work to continue in adverse climatic conditions, and helps to maintain the comfort of the operator, which will mean more consistent quality of work. In-shed installation is particularly recommended for crutching because wool handling is simplified by better access to bins and pressing facilities. In-shed installation also has the advantage of reducing contrasts of light, which assists the flow of sheep.
After determining how the handler is to be incorporated into the handling facilities, the choice of additional attachments must be considered. Many manufacturers offer auxiliary equipment to support their handlers in the form of feed-up races, restraint systems and other optional attachments to the basic unit.
When considering these extras, assess whether the items are necessary for the system and operations you have in mind.
As a guide to the selection of accessories and features, the following are suggested:
The usefulness of a handler is often judged by the throughput achieved in a day. This is not always a reliable yardstick, as many factors can affect throughput—factors that do not reflect on the capability of the machine. High throughput is not necessarily associated with high-quality work.
When comparing the throughput using a sheep handler, say for a crutching operation, with the throughput using conventional methods, the time attributed to the throughput should not include the time involved in bringing in sheep from the paddock and returning them to the paddock in the evening.
The following recommendations will help to ensure reasonable throughput and quality of output:
Attention to these details will not guarantee a fast throughput, but it will create a system in which the quality of work can be consistently good.
Further advice on selecting a handler and designing its incorporation into existing facilities can be obtained from your local Sheep and Wool Officer.
The current edition of this Agnote was reviewed by Bob Marchant, District Livestock Officer, Armidale.