I read an article in The Land on Thursday with regards to farmers’ working conditions in the current ‘severe’ heat (p. 80). The article referenced one Assistant Manager who was starting at 4am to beat the heat, and by 8am was “already halfway through drafting 800 sheep.”
I don’t discount the tough working conditions in extreme heat. We live in a hot country; and I recognise, that fatigue and heat stress are major causes of injury in hot conditions as they can reduce a worker’s performance and productivity. Managers are forced to make decisions on how best to look after their people, stock and dogs while still getting the job done easily.
However, this comment concerned me for a couple of reasons.
Firstly; these working hours do not make sheepwork attractive to younger family members and makes it difficult for us to attract the next generation to our industry. These young people are the future of our industry. While the airconditioned tractor might be more attractive at this time of year, how can we make stockwork quicker, easier, safer and ultimately, more enjoyable, to our future leaders?
That brings me to my second point. As our customer, Tom Murdoch of Beckham, NSW, says: “stockwork is physically draining but with the correct layout, 50% of the work is done!”
There are two key factors which we believe are critical to making stockwork more attractive to the next generation in these not-so-rare conditions: animal psychology principles to significantly improve the natural flow of animals; and incorporating shade into your design.
In our experience over 35 years, livestock naturally flow best when they believe they are escaping to freedom. I’m sure you’re only too familiar with sheep baulking, trying to jump fences or backing themselves into a sharp corner. This not only creates un-due stress on the sheep (and ultimately impacts the quality of meat and lamb price) – but also creates unnecessary frustration and stress among the people and dogs working the stock.
This was validated by Grant Roesler of Balmoral, VIC, who was able to draft 2,500 sheep in an hour this morning in his new Atlex sheepyards, with two dogs and two men. Grant also confirmed that he can weight 600 lambs per hour, which is twice as fast as his old yards.
The heat is tough enough as it is. With the right design, you can start at a more civil hour, require less people in the yards, alleviate any undue stress on the sheep or cattle, and ultimately make stockwork more enjoyable.
Drafting complete by breakfast; lambs weighed by morning tea! Or as Craig Fisher of Loxton, SA, recently said, the new design of his cattleyards means “at least a third of the time, and half the effort.”
The other more obvious factor is incorporating shade into your design. We use cutting edge technology to survey existing features such as trees, taps for troughs or sprinklers, and pens under woolsheds. This enables us to customise the design to incorporate shade while having no adverse effect on the natural flow of the animals. We can also incorporate skillion roofs over working areas to provide additional sun protection, greater flexibility around weather patterns (rain included!), and assisting with cooler breezes.
Burgho Persse of Thallon, QLD, recently incorporated 31 existing trees into the design of his new Atlex sheepyards! He also included a double working race and draft under a skillion roof to protect himself, his workers and his sheep from the harsh QLD sun.
“With new yards comes efficiency and safety,” says Burgho.
SafeWork NSW and their counterparts in other states and territories don’t currently prescribe farming businesses with regulations for cut-off temperatures and mandatory breaks during hot weather. However, according to WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh, workplace safety laws require an employer to ensure workers are not exposed to hazards and this includes, as far as is practical, extremes in temperatures.
“The increased sweating caused by heat depletes the body’s fluids and can lead to symptoms of heat stress: tiredness, irritability, inattention and muscular cramps,” said Mr Kavanagh.
So, in addition to good stockyard design, what do our workplace safety regulators recommend?
- Agree on parameters with your staff for working hours, priorities and breaks
- Reschedule work to cooler (realistic!) times of day
- Set realistic workloads
- Ensure fair distribution of work
- Drink at least 200ml safe drinking water every 15-20 minutes
- Avoid relying on caffeinated drinks or energy drinks that can have a diuretic effect
- Wear UPF50+ protective clothing; loose clothing allows air to circulate, improving the evaporation of sweat
- Ensure workers can recognise heat illness symptoms
- Provide shaded rest areas
I am passionate about livestock – and I’m committed to passing on this passion to the next generation by making stockwork enjoyable for everyone!
Ian Crafter founded Atlex Stockyards with his wife, Jeanette, in 1984. Ian is our Principal Stockyard Designer.