Preparation for Winter Housing of Sheep
The winter housing of ewes provides welcome shelter for man and beast and also allows pastures a well-earned rest. Damian Costello, Sheep Specialist, Teagasc Athenry discusses housing management, feed space, floor space and ventilation requirements of a good sheep shed on well-stocked sheep farms
The winter housing of ewes provides welcome shelter for man and beast and also allows pastures a well-earned rest. Particularly on well stocked sheep farms the sheep shed is a critical part of grassland management in ensuring that paddocks closed up in the Autumn can remain closed to build up adequate spring grass covers for ewes and lambs at turnout.
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 (see Figure 1)
- Adequate floor space depending on housing system (see Figure 2)
- Ventilation that will help keep fresh air in the shed and remove any airborne pathogens and other harmful bacteria (see Figure 3)
- Number of pen divisions so that ewes can be grouped by scanned litter size and expected lambing date (based on raddle colour)
- Access to a clean water supply in all pens
- Suitable lighting and power sockets
In general 10 medium sized ewes will be able to eat meal along the front of a standard 4.8m bay. However, with large framed ewes the 4.8m bay will only have feed space for 8 ewes. The feed space available in each pen should be measured particularly on farms where there are issues such as non-infectious abortion cases, prolapse or twin lamb disease. 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 central 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.
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.
Management Tips at Housing
- Ensure sheep housing is thoroughly cleaned out well in advance of planned housing date
- 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
- 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
- Footbath all ewes before housing
- Separate and treat lame ewes and either pen separately or delay housing until infection has cleared up
- Once scanning is completed group and pen ewes by litter size and raddle colour
- In straw bedded sheds ensure adequate straw is used to keep environment clean and dry