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Winter Housing Looming!

03 October 2018
Type Media Article

By Bernie Leahy, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare

When the cricket asked the Ant “Why are you saving food, it’s only June!” the ant replied “winter’s coming”! Instead of being the “merry cricket”, opt for the “busy ant” and be prepared for winter housing and fodder supplies in the months ahead.

Timing of Housing:

Take stock of winter fodder requirements. Did you consult with your Advisor re fodder supplies and are you satisfied? The late burst of growth has been an added bonus for grazing pastures and late cut silage. If weather conditions remain good, housing can be delayed but next year’s silage ground and post lambing grazing grounds must be rested and kept closed.


Ideally clean out sheds after winter housing with slurry and farm yard manure spread  by extended dates (mid October  and end October plus two weeks consecutively in revised DAFM guidelines). Proper cleaning can be achieved by power hosing.  Well cleaned sheds prevent the incidence of disease transmission and ensure structures last longer.

In dairy, suckler and sheep systems, parasitic diseases associated with intensive housing are becoming more prevalent. In sheep systems, Sarcocytosis, caused by a protozoan carried in infected dogs and cats and Cysticercosis is caused by a tapeworm transmitted to sheep in forage and feed contaminated by infected dog’s faeces.

Hygiene at housing can break the life cycle of these infecting organisms. Protect feed store areas from contamination by use of rodent proof stores and avoid access by dogs, cats and even foxes. Dose dogs every eight weeks to reduce eggs bedding and infection by tapeworms.

In cattle systems Rotavirus and Johnes Disease (Mycobacterium) are carried in infected faeces whilst IBR, (Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis), an infective respiratory disease, is caused by overcrowding and poor ventilation.


Ensure all stock have easy access to forage and feed depending on feeding systems such as  Silage, concentrates and ad lib systems and or both. Tables below relate to feeding areas and lying areas.

Recommended Feed Space S. Cows Finishing Light Stores Weanlings Ewes Lambs
Ad lib Roughage 350mm 300-350mm 250-300mm 225-300mm 200mm 100mm
Restricted Roughage 600-700mm 600-650mm 500-600mm 400-500mm 600mm 300mm
Concentrates/Roots  600-700mm 600-650mm 500-600mm 400-500mm 500mm 100mm
Sucklers: Slats & Cubicles  3m2
With Calf +1.75m2
Loose straw bedded 4-5m2/cow  
Ewes on Slats 1.1m2.
Ewes bedded. 1-1.2m2/ewe +30% per lamb, +60% twins.
Store lambs on slats:  0.75m2.
Store lambs bedded: +10% extra. 

Ensure stock have access to water at all times over the winter period. Suckler cow needs 60L /day whilst ewes with lambs at foot 10L and fattening lambs 5-7 L per head.

Now is the time to make provisions by investing in water tanks for collection from shed roof. Prepare for the worst by insulating or covering exposed outdoor pipes to ensure constant supply in freezing conditions. If using own well install a tap indoors which can be allowed to drip to avoid pipes freezing.


Ensure all doors are working freely by greasing or repairing. Calf housing needs particular attention to avoid respiratory diseases caused by lack or excess ventilation. This coupled with adequate dry bedding results in better animal performance whilst housed. A useful calculation for ventilation is to ensure the inlet area should be twice to four times the outlet area. This coupled with roof pitch (17degrees minimum) ensures fresh air is always circulating in the building.

With shortages of straw this year, look at cheaper alternatives such as Bark Mulch, Sawdust and Miscanthus. Peat can be used. Some farmers have harvested and baled rushes successfully. Rushes if properly rotted in a manure pit could be used in this year of extremes.


A thorough check should be made of sheds for structural damage, eg broken slats, damaged barriers, shed roof, sliding doors not rolling freely, tank covers and faulty electrics, preferably during summertime. Repair eave runs to avoid penalties under Nitrates Inspection breaches.

Prioritise repairs to be carried out! Yard handling facilities should be appraised and improvements planned over the winter period.

Tams II grant is available at 40% rate under Animal Welfare and Storage and 60% for Young Farmers and for repairs such as rewiring existing farm building, roof lights, replacement sliding, rolling doors and safety rails on silo pits.

New Investments:

Look at existing yard and carefully consider conversion of existing sheds if expanding. Consider payback from enterprise you are considering expanding in. Before a bank loan is given out, an Agribusiness Advisor insists on seeing an up to date Farm Business Plan. Prioritise investments at carefully planned stages. Consider alternatives! Perhaps that farm building could be converted to Farm House Accommodation with the help of Leader funding!

Farmyard Safety:

Having given consideration to all environmental and structural features, ensure your yard is a safe haven for humans and animals. Ensure all machinery is checked for safety issues and stored safely. Keep yards free of obstacles so that humans and animals can move without obstruction and in a safe manner. Display your farm safety sign at farm entrance.

With all the boxes ticked surely it’s time to take a short break if you haven’t done so already.