A dairy calf-rearing and beef-finishing enterprise can handle up to 100 cattle an hour with just one operator thanks to custom-designed handling facilities.

Every four weeks, Aled and Iwan Evans need to handle numerous groups of animals ranging in weight from 200kg to 650kg, drafting and tracking growth rates.

The brothers run 640 cattle at different stages of production on a rotational grazing system at Rest Farm, Henllan Amgoed, near Whitland.

Dairy-bred beef calves are sourced from four dairy farms and arrive at two weeks old.

The handling system prioritises efficiency through speed of cattle movement and handler and animal safety.

When they were planning it, they gave a lot of thought to animal and group size and labour requirements.

An ability to draft freely, to allow the smooth operation of routine actions from weighing and dosing and drafting for slaughter, was a focal point too.

“Efficiency is important, we have got to handle bigger numbers of cattle with fewer labour units and with only so many hours in the day,’’ says Aled.

A redundant milking parlour at the former dairy farm provided an existing roofed area to house the new facility.

The design the Evans’ settled on incorporates some of the principles of animal behaviour expert Temple Grandin, specifically integrating a forcing pen that is curved.

This concept has been shown to funnel cattle into a race more efficiently that a straight-sided alternative.

Cattle enter the pen from a 25m by 6m collecting pen on one side of the shed.

To eliminate visual disturbance to keep cattle flowing, the sides of the forcing pen and race are sheeted with stock board.

While the pen was an off-the-shelf purchase, the Evans’ worked with a local fabricator to design and build a race that has features that meet the needs of a system that handles a big range of cattle sizes.

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The race needed to be wide enough for big cattle to move through freely without stress but designed in a way that would prevent the smaller animals from turning around or filing through side by side.

As such, the race has been made adjustable on one side with a simple tractor top link attached to an upright steel post.

This can be used to manually tighten the race to keep the smaller cattle in single file and to stop them from turning around.

While the race itself is 800mm wide – wide enough for the biggest animal on the farm – it can be tapered to 400mm.

It serves the purpose well but if he was installing the handling facilities now, Aled says he may have opted for a race that adjusts automatically.

“There were very few adjustable races on the market when we were designing our system but that situation has now changed because of the grant funding available for them.

“What we have works really well but as it is manually operated it does reduce efficiency a little.’’

The race is long enough to accommodate three full-size cattle and its sides are 1.8m above ground level.

A steel saloon door between the forcing pen and the race prevents cattle backing out of the race. A second saloon door sits between the race and the crush.

The crush is mounted on cordless weigh cells which links up to a stick reader and a laptop with FarmIT 3000 software. Data collected from EID tags includes daily liveweight gain (dlwg) in the past month and over the animal’s lifetime and any treatments administered.

Use of data means that every stage of production is carefully assessed and acted on, such as pasture allocation, finishing ration and health interventions.

The majority of production comes from grazed grass, from early February to the end of November, after which cattle are housed with the majority of growing cattle housed in cubicles. The ration consists of grass silage, red clover silage and rolled barley.

“We will generally incorporate on-off grazing at the shoulders of the season, which will see cattle go out for about three hours per day to transition, this will typically buy us 30 to 40 extra days grazing in the year which is a massive cost-saving,’’ says Aled.