We’re great fans of temporary. Not aiming for permanence tends to mean that ideas can be trialled inexpensively, can be easily changed and that learning from failure can be quick and low-impact. In that spirit, as we develop the sheep enterprise of the farm, we’ve tried to keep things low-key. For yards, we use locally-made portable panels, but when working closely with sheep, we found the mesh sides problematic due to the ease with which horns or feet can become entangled. In more established circumstances, yards would have a working race for such a purpose, but the cost of a manufactured race can be steep. It was time to get out the tools and make our own.
From our research, the recommended dimensions for sheep working races are 900mm high and 600mm wide. Some documents recommend a minimum length of 3 metres to support stock flow. Given how high our sheep can jump when exuberant, we opted to make ours a little higher (1100mm), and the materials we had available were 2 metres long, so that became our length. While we’re not especially enthusiastic about CCA-treated pine, we have plenty of posts lying around, and this seemed a fitting way to put them to use.
Over an afternoon, we knocked together a couple of sides with horizontal rails to minimise horn and leg snagging, and assembled it at our designated sheep-yard site. We used eye-bolts and carabiners to attach the race to our portable panels, and constructed a gate at one end of the race from more scrap timber. In the spirit of plastic-free July, we also used plastic strapping from a pallet of tree-guards as hinges.
Once assembled, we yarded up the sheep and allowed them an afternoon to familiarise themselves with it. They seemed to get a kick out of wandering through and even when we connected two small yards into one large one eliminating the need for the race, many still opted to wander through for their own entertainment. We tested it again the following day when giving them their annual health check, and found it significantly reduced the need for more physical wrangling. As a refinement, we need to brace the un-braced end of the race to help it more effectively resist all the hip-and-shouldering.
Using salvaged materials, the finished race cost about $40 and took several hours to construct. Apart from being substantially cheaper than a manufactured version, it brings its own rough-hewn pioneer charm to the farm – just look out for splinters!