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Giving your sheep housing the once over


In advance of winter housing of ewes it is always useful to review the effectiveness of your housing facilities. A Teagasc labour study on 30 sheep farms nationwide concluded that farms with good sheep housing were 25% more efficient. Damian Costello, Teagasc Sheep Specialist covers the key points

Pictured above: Michael Conroy, Teagasc Roscommon Advisor and Shane Moore, BETTER Farm Sheep participant in Shane's new sheep shed.

In 1999 and 2000 Teagasc conducted an in-depth labour study on 30 sheep farms nationwide. One conclusion was that farms with good sheep housing were 25% more labour efficient than on farms where housing was rated as poor.

Key Considerations

The following are among the key considerations when assessing suitability of the existing housing accommodation:

  • Sufficient feed space so that all ewes comfortably eat concentrates at one time being fed by one person without entering sheep pens
  • Adequate floor space depending on housing system
  • Number of pen divisions so that ewes can be grouped by scanned litter size and expected lambing date (based on raddle colour)
  • Ventilation that will help keep fresh air in the shed and remove any airborne pathogens and other harmful bacteria
  • Access to a clean water supply in all pens
  • Suitable lighting and power sockets

Assessing Feeding Space and Floor Space Requirements

The result of inadequate feed space for all ewes to comfortably eat concentrate at one time is sub optimum nutrition of some ewes. This in turn can cause issues such as below target body condition score, twin lamb disease, milk fever, weak lambs at birth and ewes with poor milk supply. There is also the risk of injury as ewes compete for feed space which can cause non-infectious abortion cases and in particular high incidences of vaginal prolapse. It’s a good idea to measure the available feed space in each pen and work out the number of ewes that it can accommodate. Take off 600mm from total feed space available for each corner in sheds where walk through troughs are in place. In many sheep sheds feed space is more often the limiting factor than floor space. Where this is the case it is essential to modify the pens to provide additional trough space. Where all concentrate feeding is from the feed passage along front of pen, then relatively shallow pens of 2.5 to 3.0m will provide enough floor space. If pens are say 6.0m deep from front to back, then walk through troughs will be needed to optimise number of ewes that can be accommodated in these pens balancing floor space and feed space. In some cases with deeper pens it may be possible to feed concentrates at both the front and back of pens as an alternative to walk through troughs. In this case it is advisable to divide pens in the middle to facilitate one person feeding. The requirement for feed space for silage/hay is substantially less but it’s critical that it is such that ewes have access to a constant supply of roughage, not allowing them to run out at any stage.

Damian Costello, Teagasc Sheep Specialist outlines the two main considerations -lying space and trough/feed space in this short video below.

Number of pen divisions

The number of pen divisions should facilitate the grouping of ewes by scanned litter size and expected lambing date (based on raddle colour). It is often possible to increase number of group pen divisions by simply adding a few internal dividing gates. For larger flock group pens of up to 60 ewes can be managed successfully provided there is adequate feed and floor space provided. 

Ventilation Requirements  

As with all animal housing adequate ventilation will help keep fresh air in the shed and remove many airborne pathogens and other harmful bacteria. A poorly ventilated building leads to a damper environment increasing the straw requirement in straw bedded sheds. In a well-ventilated animal house the heat produced by the livestock rises and exits via the roof outlet. This is then displaced by fresh air coming in from the sides of the building. A symptom of a poorly ventilated animal house is a lot of dust and dirt on the underside of the roof sheeting due to particles sticking 

to condensation. Where ventilation may be compromised it is important to carry out the necessary modifications to correct the problem. These could include improving inflow of fresh air by increasing inlet spacing or removing sheeting from an adjacent building to improve airflow. To aid the outflow of stale air space sheeting or raised sheeting are options to be considered.

Pre housing checklist

  • Ensure sheep housing is thoroughly cleaned out well in advance of planned housing date ensuring enough time for it to fully dry out also
  • Many sheep houses may have housed store lambs for finishing in the run up to the housing of the ewes – beware of carryover issues such as external parasites and seek veterinary advice on disinfection of all hard surface where there have been issues such as sheep scab, lice etc.
  • Check feed barriers, pen dividers, gates, latches and carry out repairs as necessary
  • Carry out any necessary modifications such as providing extra trough space, additional pen divisions or measures to improve ventilation
  • Clean out water troughs and check for any leaking pipes and fittings – the optimum height for drinkers is 600mm from floor level to help prevent soiling by sheep
  • It is also important to check that drinkers or other such obstacles are not positioned within the pens where they pose a risk of injury to ewes particularly at feeding time
  • If there are any issues with lighting or power sockets have your electrician check them out
  • Avoid housing sheep with wet fleeces – it gives rise to high humidity in the shed that can lead to respiratory problems and it can take a week for a wet fleece to dry out after housing
  • In straw bedded sheds ensure adequate straw has been sourced to keep the environment clean and dry
  • If you don’t already have one in place consider providing a work station that will include storage area for equipment, a sink with adjoining preparation area along with a simple water heating system – at a relatively modest cost this proves invaluable at lambing time

If you liked this article you can find out more at the Virtual Farm Walk with BETTER Farm Sheep Programme Farmer Shane Moore

The Teagasc Sheep Specialists issue an article on a topic of interest to sheep farmers every second Tuesday here on Teagasc Daily.  Find more on Teagasc Sheep here  Teagasc provides a Local Advisory and Education service to farmers. Find your local Teagasc office here