Back Up Charlie takes headache out of sheep work

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Urana farmer Charlie Webb will showcase his Back Up Charlie flexible sheep movement system at the field days.

Manhandling sheep up a race is time consuming and tiring but a Urana producer has solved the problem of sheep flow with his invention, Back Up Charlie.

Charlie Webb designed the flexible sheep movement system to reduce operator fatigue and increase labour efficiency on his own farm, Lakeside.

He can now process 2000 sheep a day with a small labour requirement.

He was prompted by other woolgrowers and contractors to produce the system commercially, and will debut the Back Up Charlie in the Henty Machine of the Year Award.

Back Up Charlie was launched at Sheepvention at Hamilton in August, winning the livestock/wool technology invention section.

The key to the system is the lightweight hock bars which are below the sheep’s main line of vision and do not allow the sheep to turn or back out of the race.

Designed and manufactured in Lockhart, Back Up Charlie features an anti-backing system, which has been trialled by Charlie and his wife Tana on-farm for several years.

Mr Webb said the system improves sheep flow rate and addressed animal welfare issues.

“There is no reason to physically handle the sheep in the race – this reduces operator frustration and fatigue,’’ he said.

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Lightweight hock bars are below the sheep’s main line of vision and do not allow the sheep to turn or back out of the race.

“The need for excessive force or prodders is eliminated – one person with good dogs should be able to crutch over 70 sheep an hour, or with help, over 80 sheep an hour.

“The sheep are not stressed, pushed and forced into the yards, they run a lot better.’’

Back Up Charlie consists of a forcing yard leading into a dual race for movement into sheep handlers, crutching plants or scanning machines.

The forcing race can be in a straight line or turn 180 degrees to a create a bugle formation.

Back Up Charlie features both flexible and mesh panels for the race, flexible centre panels with the Back Up Charlie hock bars, two sheeted panels with dog holes for entry to the force pen, a back gate and spring loaded access gate.

The race width can be adjusted to suit weaners through to large rams and ewes. The length of the race, including the forcing yard, is 10m and panels are one metre in height.

The light and compact design of Back Up Charlie allows it to be easily transported between sheep yards, with set-up times of around 30 minutes.

The system is now patent pending in Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Webb evaluated single and double laneway systems, step-over bars and various styles of hock bars before inventing his own system.

“The biggest issue running sheep is them backing up in a race,’’ he said.

“If you can’t stop them backing up it makes it pretty hard work.

“Under this system the sheep flow through the race.

“Anyone who has seen it asks why hasn’t someone thought of it before.’’

Mr Webb said the system’s flexibility enabled it to curve around a shade tree, run along uneven ground or in a straight line up to a crutching plant.

“The last time we crutched 3000 sheep, we didn’t have to physically handle a single sheep because they flowed through so well,’’ he said.

Mr Webb said a forcing yard was included to create improved stock flow.

“The forcing yard and race holds about 35 sheep,’’ he said.

“We run 3000 Merino ewes and they can be the most stubborn so we designed the race to suit them.

“The hock bar pivots in the centre of the double race and are removable, leaving the race open for drafting.

“The hock bars are pivoted backwards and sideways to give natural fall, and the chain can be adjusted to the width of the sheep.

“When the sheep push back on the chain, it causes the hock bar to tickle them around the legs, moving them forward.’’

Dog escape holes in the forcing yard have been included for safety.

Mr Webb said the robust construction was able to withstand corrosive environments.

“We used to crutch 450-500 sheep a day at our other property, and because of the configuration of the old yards, we would be flat out starting by 7.30am and finishing by 5pm as the sheep just didn’t run,’’ he said.

“The first time we used the Back up Charlie, we crutched 460 sheep from 8.20am to 4pm.

“With the right dogs, it is nothing to crutch 250 sheep on your own with this system.’’