SydellAn acquaintance of mine retired from sheep, and I was so pleased to be able to buy her Sydell sorting system at a discount. I have wanted one of these systems for a while, but the price for a new one, plus shipping, is staggering. A used system is much more practical to afford. I was finally able to go pick up all  the pieces last spring, but procrastinated putting it together all summer, partly due to analysis paralysis of how I wanted to put it together. The system I got came with a sorting “tub”, a guillotine gate, a slider gate, two sections of straight chutes, a “Spin Doctor” turn table, a sorting gate, an anti-backup stop, and a scale that is not of Sydell’s design. There is some decision making needed on the order in which to place all the elements.

I didn’t find really any advice or instructions on Sydell’s website, it really just has their catalog photos. I asked a salesperson who was at an event I attended, and he didn’t have a strong opinion on the order in which to set up the components. To be fair, I think he did encourage me to call the office if I had any questions, and seemed supportive of helping me even though he knew I bought a used set. But, there is nothing like written material to help understand a design. Sydell has a youtube channel, but here they don’t really demo a full setup with a lot of sheep moving through it, they only demo one sheep in one component at a time (you’ll see more of that when I describe actually using the system later). Premier has a competitive product, and their website has a bit more advice and diagramming, which I found moderately helpful to visualize how it was all going to work.TheTub

I pondered things like “should the Spin Doctor be in the middle of the  system, or the last component? Should the scale go before or after it? Should I do one long race, or split them with other stationary components? What is the difference in utility between the guillotine gate and the slider gate? Where should the guillotine gate rope string to?”

I had some fear that it would be a lot of work to set up, only to realize it was done in a regrettable order, and I’d have to reconfigure it all later. I drew all the components in Visio, and spent some time trying to visualize the flow and action, and the different things I’d be doing with the system- vaccinating, hoof trimming, weighing, maybe a foot bath, sorting into groups, and potentially ultrasound scanning. I had made myself a typed list of all the things I wanted it to do, so I kept reviewing that. Guillotine

The seller had warned it was complicated to put together, and they had labeled all the components and suggested I take photos while it was still set up, which I did. But as everyone knows, usually when you get home, you realize your photos still left out details that leave you scratching your head.

It didn’t help that the sellers had not incorporated the Spin Doctor or a scale into their permanent setup, they used them separately and rarely, I think. They mainly used the Sydell for vaccinating and sorting. So their setup left me fewer clues. The photo at the top of this post is the system set up at my place. The other photos are at their place in Moses Lake.

I finally settled on this layout:


In October , after the components had been sitting in a driveway stack for six months, it was finally built and ready for the maiden voyage of the sheep through the system. Putting it together was remarkably easy, and one of many things in my life that make me think, “why did I procrastinate on this so long??” It’s never far from my mind that inventory and work-in-progress are two of the Seven Wastes. I’m always chastising myself for letting them accumulate and not get to their value-earned state quick enough. The unconscious worries averting me were moving all the heavy stuff down to the pasture by myself, pumping up the flat tires on the Spin Doctor and towing it, and figuring out how all the pieces fit together.

I decided to get the Spin Doctor down there first. It has two removable wheel mounts with small, fat tires; and a removable hitch attachment that goes on the front. Of course it only took me a few minutes to get air in the tires and figure how how the hitch thing went on. Ten minutes later, it was in place, easy as pie. LoadingIntoTruck

The big panels I found I could move by myself, though they were heavy. I piled them onto the tractor bucket, and in three more trips, I had all the components down there.

I started at the end with the sort gate, which I configured to allow me to kick sheep into the adjacent pasture to the left or sort them to the right into the west field or keeping them in the channel. Then I measured a length for the scale, which I don’t intend to leave outside, because it seems less weather resistant. The scale is a Nasco brand scale, so isn’t quite configured to work in this system, so I have some thinking to do about that.

Next I jockeyed the Spin Doctor into place and removed its wheels and hitch connector. Then came the panels. I have four panels, two with drop-down sides that facilitate access to the sheep for things like vaccinating. I faced those on the outside. I contemplated whether, since this setup was going against a fence, if I could use the fenceline as one side of the race. But I cannot, because the Spin Doctor is wider than the rest of the race, and I learned the hard way that you want the race to be very, very narrow so that the sheep are pretty snug and cannot turn around or get in a two-up formation which causes them to jam. SliderGateInRace

The panels were super easy to put together- cane bolts drop in to connect each section. I think I had some notion that they would connect with the ground somehow and that it would be a pain. But not so- this thing could be set up on concrete or pavement and would be very stable. The whole setup braces and stabilizes itself and is a super neat design. And in hindsight, I realize, it’s so easy to put together, it would not be a pain at all if one decided to rearrange it after some use. The only bad thing would be trying to set it up on non-level ground. I ran into this a little bit, due to mole hills and such causing unevenness, but it wasn’t too bad. The panels don’t want to align such that you can get the cane bolts in, if they are on uneven ground.

To help myself visualize, I took the photo of the setup at Moses Lake and reversed it, since I would be doing it opposite of their setup. This helped, and there are some little gadgets you have to switch around on top of the tub panels to make the swing panel swing right. But everything is designed to be set up in either direction. SetupAtMosesLake


The tub, I realized, has identical curved panels, so the labeling of them was unnecessary. The only subtlety is that the “floor braces” that go between them are of graduating lengths. The smallest one goes nearest the Y chute, the biggest one is at the opening of the tub. I didn’t get this right the first time, and couldn’t get things to align. But puzzling over some parts list on Sydell’s website clued me into this.


The tub has a neat design where the center panel rotates on a rotating center post (yes, it’s like double rotation). So you can squish sheep into the jug, squeeze them all the way around and into the Y with this panel, and then slide the panel back out to the outside to pull in another batch of sheep. It is so. clever.

The sort gate at the end swivels to exhaust sheep out to the right or left. You can see that the sellers were lacking a proper stop gate here, so had been using a piece of plywood. I would like to replace this with a  slider gate, and also put one more slider gate after the Spin Doctor.


In the end, I think it probably only took a couple of hours to get it all put together and ready for use. The next step was the learning curve of actually using it!