Racewell super sheep handler

By: Andrew Stewart, Photography by: Andrew Stewart

Racewell super sheep handler Simple but effective: the Racewell Super Sheep Handler Racewell super sheep handler
Racewell super sheep handler Racewell super sheep handler
Racewell super sheep handler Racewell super sheep handler
Racewell super sheep handler The magic eyes can be set back to allow sheep to be dagged Racewell super sheep handler
Racewell super sheep handler A lamb enters the handler and is caught by the ‘magic eyes’ Racewell super sheep handler
Racewell super sheep handler The anti-backing hook stops any backwards movement Racewell super sheep handler
Racewell super sheep handler The Racewell handlers offer clear, unobstructed access to the entire animal Racewell super sheep handler
Racewell super sheep handler The round, green plastic houses one of the four magic eyes, which are easily moved depending on what type of sheep are being handled Racewell super sheep handler
Racewell super sheep handler Racewell super sheep handler
Racewell super sheep handler Sheep can be tipped on their side to offer belly access with the optional side tilt ram Racewell super sheep handler

Farmers have been craning their backs for centuries but, thanks to ingenious companies like Racewell, lifting and handling stock has become a choice, not a necessity.

Racewell super sheep handler
Mike Abbis’s Manawatu farm is a good example of a perfect setup to maximise the efficiency of a sheep handler

Handling sheep is one of the most physically demanding jobs on Kiwi farms and puts huge strain on bodies. It matters not what task is undertaken — drenching, vaccinating, mouthing, drafting, dipping, capsuling or earmarking — knees, legs and backs are all put under stress to restrain animals. The average age of farmers is supposedly pushing 60, which means a significant number of farmers are older than this. It is small wonder then that mechanical sheep handlers are becoming more and more popular.

One name that has been synonymous with sheep handling in New Zealand is Racewell. The company has been producing sheep handlers since Te Kuiti farmers Robin and Carol Fagan designed the first, offering to better read their hogget's brass ear tags. Racewell, the company, was purchased by Te Pari in 2011 and the sheep handlers form an important part of this iconic agricultural company. Designs over the years have been modified based on important feedback from farmers on what does and does not work in practical on-farm situations.

The Racewell flagship model is the Super Sheep Handler, which can be set up in a raft of different configurations. Farm Trader visited Mike Abbis's intensive Manawatu finishing farm to review this labour-saving, super-clever, highly-automated machine in action. Freshly brought-in lambs that had never seen a sheep handler before were running through the race with a minimum of fuss and very little dog power. Although it was very well set up, with specific yards and gates to be able to draft six ways, it was obvious that the Super Sheep Handler provides tangible benefits for farmers. For Robin Briggs, from Te Pari sales and technical support, units that are set up at a right angle to the main race and have daylight at the end of the Super Sheep Handler work really well. He advised farmers to think carefully about the design of their yards to maximise the flow through the Racewell machine.

Super Sheep Handler

The 2013 model of the Super Sheep Handler has been beefed up in terms of build strength. The hot dipped galvanised frame is tougher than its predecessors, with moulded plastic replacing plywood for added durability. But the simplistic operation has been retained, enabling the unit to be run effectively by one person.

As the sheep enter the race, they are prevented from backing up by anti-backing ratchets along the side. Once they enter the handler, the sensor magic eyes trigger the catching mechanism, which is an air-operated clamp, while the air-operated gate closes behind them, preventing the next sheep from entering. Once the animal has been handled and weighed, a drafting gate is moved to allow the sheep into a pre-determined pen upon release. The entire process is done in a matter of seconds, meaning minimal stress on both man and beast.

The four magic eyes are fully adjustable, depending on the size of the sheep and the task at hand. For example, if lambs were being drafted on weight, the catching eyes would be on the bottom of two rails so they are triggered by the animals head, whereas ewes would see the eyes on the top rail. The speed with which the animals are clamped and the pressure they are clamped with are both fully adjustable. According to Racewell, the only real on-going maintenance with the magic eyes is keeping the glass clean.

One of the key benefits of a Racewell handler is the ability to add optional extras as needs and money allow. An air-operated side ram can be added to flip sheep onto their sides, allowing full access to the lower belly and crutch area. Remote controls can be programmed so operators can perform tasks whilst chasing sheep up from the back of the forcing pen, a real bonus for those who work by themselves. Trailed versions of the Racewell handlers are also popular for those farmers with large, or more than one, properties.

Merits of a merger

Although Racewell has now been incorporated into the larger Te Pari company, New Zealand sales manager Andy Raikes believes they have retained the core values. "Racewell Sheep Handling machines have revolutionised the way farmers handle sheep. Since their invention in the 1980s, they have evolved to not only to be the fastest weighing and drafting machines available, but the clamping system unlocked incredible ability as a handler with the unrestricted overhead access. Any tasks performed in a sheep working race can be done in a Racewell, as well as it being the fastest and most accurate automatic weighing machine available. The Racewell Sheep Handler has improved dramatically over the years and Te Pari continues to refine its unique features," he says. Raikes summarises the Racewell handlers as being precision management tools.

So, has the merger had any effect on sales of Racewell products? "Te Pari has experienced significant growth in the last four years and the acquisition of Racewell has helped this forward dramatically. New product developments, like the Racewell Super Drafter, ePanel, reducing lead-up race and refinements to the automatic control system has allowed these machines to follow the company goals of developing a unique portfolio of integrated livestock handling solutions," Raikes says.

One area where early adopting farmers are seeing extra tangible benefits is using EID technology in sheep flocks. "Sheep farmers using EID have experienced significant gains by being able to monitor traits, such as weight gain and carcase yield, more easily. This has led to the importation of different genetics into flocks to achieve better farm yields, which in turn has led to greater farm gate returns. We also have farmers in the South Island that farm for fine wool, using EID to sort sheep prior to shearing to get a better consistency in wool classes," he says.

Although Raikes believes EID will become mandatory for sheep farmers, he is unsure when. "I think they'll let the cattle implementation settle down in the short term and we'll see what happens after that. If it proves to be very beneficial in the cattle, this will be the catalyst for a movement into sheep."

New Racewell products

The Racewell products have evolved over the years, and will continue to do so. As well as the sheep handlers, Racewell has also recently launched the Super Drafter. "It has been designed for farmers who want a simple weighing and drafting machine, without the full handling capability of the top-of-the-line Racewell Super Handler. It still utilises its popular magic eye and radio remote control technology to provide flexible set up and handles simultaneous weighing and drafting with ease.

The four-button radio remote control on the control box operates every function of the handler, while the magic eye optical sensors control the opening and closing of the gates, allowing flexible positioning for different situations. If the user needs to interrupt the auto-cycle for any reason, they simply put the machine into hold mode, check or tag the animal, release it, and resume auto-drafting with the touch of a button.

One of the product's most innovative features is the integration of weigh cells into the mainframe of the unit. This keeps the weigh cells and electronics above the animals and well away from any dirt build-up around the bottom of the machine where load cells are traditionally located. And because the weigh cells are integrated into the machine, a set of standard load bars is not required.

The flow of the sheep is also enhanced with the Racewell Sheep Drafter. Its unique, open crate design allows for plenty of external light so the sheep won't suffer from feeling closed in.

For more information phone 0800 837 274 

For the latest reviews, subscribe to our Farm Trader magazine here.

Keep up to date in the industry by signing up to Farm Trader's free newsletter or liking us on Facebook