Sheep housing: Are your facilities up to scratch for the winter period?

Over the next few weeks, farmers will be looking to house their ewes for the winter period until they lamb down next spring.

For some, early-lambing flocks may already be housed in time for lambing in January. However, the majority of sheep farmers will only be thinking of housing their ewes now.

Therefore, in order to make life easy come lambing time and to maximise the performance of the flock, it is important that your housing facilities are ready.

A few important factors to ensure, when housing ewes, are:

  • To provide adequate floor and feed space;
  • To allow access to clean water;
  • To keep pens clean and dry;
  • To ensure adequate ventilation.

Floor space

It is important to provide ewes with plenty of space in order to prevent overcrowding, which can result in reduced performance.

If floor space is tight it is important to have good airflow circulating throughout the shed to prevent ewes from becoming too warm and stressed.

Furthermore, when ewes are ready to be scanned in early December, they should be grouped in accordance with how many lambs they are carrying. Single-bearing ewes; twin-bearing ewes; and triplet-bearing ewes should be penned separately.

This table (below) outlines the minimum floor space ewes of different weight categories require.

Data source: Teagasc

Feeding space

It is important to provide ewes with adequate feed space throughout the housing period. An option for farmers if their sheds are at full capacity is to have a walk-through feeding passageway at either side of the pen. This allows farmers to feed their ewes from three sides of the pen.

According to Teagasc, the recommended feed space when offering concentrates to a ewe weighing between 70kg and 90kg is between 500mm and 6,000mm.

Smaller ewes weighing 50kg require a feed space of 400mm when being fed concentrates.

Moreover, ewes should have access to fresh clean water at all times.

Sheep

Ventilation

As with all animal housing, adequate ventilation will help keep fresh air in the shed and remove any airborne pathogens and any other harmful bacteria.

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.

Now is the time to fix any areas in the shed where ventilation may be compromised, not when the ewes are in the shed.

The most common type of ventilation found in sheep housing facilities is Yorkshire boarding. According to Teagasc, the boarding should be installed to a minimum depth of 1.5m below the eves along the full length of the shed.

The gaps between the pressure-treated laths should be between 25mm and 50mm. Laths should be 25mm thick with a maximum width of 75mm.

Data source: Teagasc

Hygiene

Throughout the housing period, it is important to keep bedding clean and dry to decrease the risk of any animal health problems.

Therefore, making sure you have an adequate supply of straw for the housing period is critical – especially around lambing time – to ensure pens are kept clean.

A common animal health problem associated with dirty bedding is lameness, which can spread quickly throughout the shed.

If the bedding is extremely dirty, it may need to be removed from the shed. In this case, lime should be spread around the pen to kill any infections that may be present.

At lambing time, individual pens should be disinfected after every ewe and her offspring are removed. Lime and fresh straw should be applied.

Individual pens

It might be at the back of most farmers’ minds, but setting up individual pens now will save time come next spring.

The best place to locate individual pens is near the entrance of the building. This will make it easy to turn the ewe and her lambs out of the shed.

According to Teagasc, one individual pen should be allocated between six ewes over the lambing period. The dimensions of an individual pen should be 1.5m long and 1.5m wide.