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February 19 2018 12:28 PM
A well designed sheep shed is labour efficient, provides a healthy environment for sheep and shepherd and makes the best use of space.
The layout of a sheep shed should be planned on paper before it’s built. However the layout of existing sheep sheds should be reviewed each year before the winter housing period.
Consider the layout of pens, penning, passage ways, meal troughs, water troughs, individual pens, lambing equipment, handling equipment, ventilation and lighting. Keep in mind the needs of both sheep and shepherd. There is always room to improve.
In the year 2000 Teagasc surveyed labour use on 30 sheep farms with an average flock size of 352 ewes. The labour input was 36pc higher on farms that had poor sheep housing when compared to those with good.
The key message from this survey is the same today as it was 17 years ago i.e. good housing means less work. List all the jobs you will do in your sheep shed. Jobs like feeding fodder, feeding meal, bedding, moving new borns, mothering-up, watering, cleaning out and veterinary tasks. How will these jobs be done most efficiently.
How many minutes does it take you to feed 100 ewes? A well designed sheep shed should allow you to fodder and meal every 100 ewes in 10-15 minutes. It should be possible to meal feed ewes without having to get into the pen with them. Having all your ewes under one roof or at least in the same yard will reduce the workload.
Floor space & feed space
In some sheep sheds group pens are under-stocked due to limited meal trough space. If deep pens are to be stocked to their full potential then walk through troughs or feeding on two or more sides of the pen maybe needed. Some sheds are under-stocked because meal feeding space is halved by having a walled side on the external boundary. This limits meal feeding to the front of the pen.
This leads to under stocked pens or narrow pens, small group sizes and more shed space been given over passage ways.
Having small group sizes makes work as more groups have to be handled. It also reduces the number of ewes that can be housed in a shed as more space is given over to extra passageways.
Small group sizes also increases the cost of housing as extra dividing gates, exit gates, water troughs and passageways are needed. Group sizes up to 60-80 ewes are fine where sheep are evenly matched and have correct floor, meal and fodder trough space. Those building a new sheep shed under TAMS2 should have no more than 60 ewes per pen as per DAFM specification S146.
To avoid soiling, water troughs in group pens should be 600mm above floor level. A block on the floor may improve access. Locate water troughs along the outside of the pen so that they are not in the way when bedding or damaged when cleaning out. An on/off value at each water trough will always come in handy.
The amount of straw used and the amount of time spent bedding can be reduced by feeding drier fodder, offering an all meal diet or using slats. However these options are not available to all. The amount of time spent bedding can be reduced by having longer pens with fewer divisions between them.
Minimise the number of obstacles within the pen. Locate water troughs and where possible feed meals and fodder along the outside of the pen. This allows round bales of straw to be rolled out quickly and easily without been blocked. Another option is to have properly hinged gates as pen divisions for easy opening and closing
Design the sheep shed so that a tractor can enter straight into the group pens from both gable ends for easy cleaning out. Where practical reduce the time spent cleaning out by having longer pens, fewer divisions between pens, avoiding locating obstacles like racks, ring feeders, walk through troughs and water troughs centrally in the pen.
Post should slot into the concrete floor so that they can be lifted out for cleaning. Alternatively pen divisions should hinged so they can be swung out of the way without having to be completely removed.
A correctly designed air inlet in the side walls is key to a properly ventilated sheep shed. Ideally a sheep shed should have a solid wall to just above sheep height to prevent draughts at sheep level. However this may reduce trough space. Above this the sidewalls must let air in.
The air inlet should be directly below the eves for the full length of each side of the sheep house or on the lower side of a lean-to type shed. Yorkshire boarding is a very simple option. It 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 25-50mm. Laths should be 25mm thick with a maximum width of 75mm.
Installed correctly an open roof ridge or spaced sheeting or raised sheeting make good outlets. An open ridge should run the full length of the roof apex. Avoid a ridge cap over the outlet. Instead have a correctly designed curved or angled up-stands on both sides of the ridge outlet to suck stale air out and to repel the rain.
Wider sheds need wider apex openings. When using space sheeting a 30mm gap is recommended. In a new curved roof shed spaced sheeting over the entire roof should act as the outlet. The minimum gap is 20mm.
Overlap the first 2 gable end sheets to strengthen the roof. In existing curved roofed sheds that are been converted to sheep housing in each bay two non-adjacent sheets at the apex of the roof should be raised for at least one third of their length. Use angle iron spacers to give a clear space on all sides of at least 275mm.
Gates must be easy to use. Regularly used gates should be correctly hinged & have a large handle for easy use.
Big handles make it easier to get a grip. Each group pen should have a properly hinged small gate (0.9 – 1m wide) that opens freely for taking out newly lambed ewes. The bottom board of this small gate should open along with the gate to make it easier to encourage a ewe out of the pen.
Individual pen location
Locate individual pens to one side or toward the entrance of the sheep shed so they are handy to use but never in the way. Three things will make moving lambed ewes easy for 1 person come awkward ewe day or night, rain or shine.
Firstly individual pens should be under the same roof as the group pens. Secondly individual pens should be near group pens. Thirdly the route from the group pens to the individual pens must enclosed to prevent the escape of retreating mothers. Allow access for machinery for cleaning out & for moving sheep to grass.
Individual pen design
Allow 1 individual pen per 6 ewes, particularly where lambing is compact. Individual pens should be 1.5m x 1.5m.
They should be made up using steel hurdles which are easier to keep clean, assemble and open.
Do all your preparation work before lambing i.e. individual pens, racks, feed and water buckets. This area must have good lighting and a roof high enough to allow tractor access. Pens should be in rows which would allow dividing gates to be opened and bedding pushed into a passageway for a tractor loader or scraper to remove. The passage way between the rows of individual pens needs to be wide enough for 2 people to pass.
Good natural lighting is important for safety & animal health. The minimum number of clear sheets recommended on each roof slope or single-sided house is shown in the next table. Where spaced sheeting is used for the entire roof clear sheets can be omitted. A safety grid should be installed under each clear sheet. There should be at least 70 lux level of lighting. Ensure light covers are clean & have spare bulbs ready.
Less lameness means less labour. Before housing pick out lame ewes. Leave lame ewes in a field or a pen near the handling unit and footbath 3 times at 5 day intervals. Footbath other housed ewes every 4 weeks.
Lameness will be an even bigger problem this year where silage is wet. Regular footbathing, extra straw & liming will reduce the number of lame ewes.
Teagasc research on Wicklow farms found 5.2pc lameness in limed pens compared to 12.8pc in un-limed pens. Spread 25kgs hydrated lime/100 ewes/week. A 1 tonne bulk bag of hydrated lime cost about €165. For a 100 day winter that’s 60 cent per ewe. Compared this to 1 tonne (40 bags) of 25kg bags costing €250/tonne. For 100 days that’s 90 cent per ewe.
A roofed handling unit attached to the sheep shed may sound like a luxury. However the growing numbers that do roof their handling unit find that it has clear advantages. Locating the roofed handling unit next to the sheep shed reduces building cost by grafting onto existing stanchions.
Penning cost can be reduced & ewes kept dry by using the existing housing as collection pens. A handling unit next to the sheep shed allows the timely completion of jobs like foothbathing, vaccination, condition scoring and sorting of winter housed pregnant ewes under one roof no matter the weather.
Only roof essential parts of the unit i.e. the footbath, forcing pen, drafting race and dosing race. Having a group footbath is critical to lameness control. A 200 ewe flock needs at bath that holds 25 ewes i.e. 4m x 2.5m
In a straw bedded house the passageway floor should be 150-200mm higher than the pen floor so that ewes can still reach feed on the passageway floor despite bedding building-up underneath them. This will reduce the frequency of cleaning out.
However the downside of a raised passageway is that the tractor cannot enter the group pens via the passageway due to this drop. Design the house so that a tractor can enter straight into bedded group pens from both gable ends for easy cleaning out.
The sheds main passageways should be located & designed so that a tractor can enter from one end and exit through the other end without having to reverse i.e. avoid dead-end passageways.
Hot water & paper towels
Putting your hands into cold water on a cold day isn’t nice and will be avoided. Having a ready supply of hot water is a great encouragement to keeping hands, lambing ropes and other equipment clean. A mains fed 10L over sink water heater can be bought for as little as €100. Having paper towels (a 6 pack can be bought for less than €20) ensures a constant supply of clean dry towels without the job of washing and drying towels.
A fully enclosed meal bin reduces labour by reducing the need to handling or cleaning up. They can be set-up to empty into a diet feeder, front loader, snackers, barrows or bags. Meal bins are also vermin and weather proof.
Sliding doors should be fitted with a hinged single person door that is at least 2.2m high. This will avoid having to open the sliding door to get into the sheep shed.
Keep the shed layout simple. Keep changes simple. Have a plan for making improvements in stages. Prioritise what is important & affordable for you. But get the basic skeleton of the shed right from the start i.e. overall house layout, feed space, floor space, penning, water, ventilation, lighting and safety. From there improve in stages.
Minimise work & maximise comfort for handlers. An airy shed that gives the best use of space are vital aspects to shed design.
Edward Egan is a Teagasc Drystock Advisor in Meath.