Housed your flock yet? Here are some points to consider for the lambing shed

Lambing on all farms is different, some farmers choose to lamb their flock outdoors while others will house and lamb their flock indoors. Either way this can be a stressful time for both the farmer and their sheep.

When sheep are housed, it’s important to ensure that the lambing shed allows for efficient management of both in-lamb and lambed ewes in a healthy environment for both the farmer and their flock.

Good hygiene management in the lambing shed is particularly important to prevent the spread of diseases.

Lots of harmful bacteria are created – by the flock – over the housing and lambing period with young lambs being most at risk of picking up adverse infections.

Water

It is important to supply adequate fresh, clean water to ewes at all times. Depending on the diet, the water intake can be up to 10L/day according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

Naturally, this will increase post lambing due to the onset of lactation.

Some farmers will use automatic water drinkers in group pens, but are more likely to use buckets to offer ewes water when they are in individual pens.

Keeping these buckets filled with water can be very laborious and time consuming. Also, they are easily knocked over.

To reduce labour and time, an automatic drinker can be placed in each individual pen. However, this can be a costly investment.

An alternative option is a length of clean sewer pipe (as in the picture above) – with notches cut out of it – placed along each individual pen at a suitable height.

This can be a cost efficient way to provide multiple ewes with water. Such a system can be manually filled or automatically filled with a connection fitted.

Individual pens

Having a number of individual lambing pens is useful, as they allow the ewe to bond with her offspring post lambing. In addition, it gives the lambs time to harden before being transferred to group pens or turned out to grass.

It is recommended by the AHDB that one individual pen is available for every eight to ten ewes in the flock at lambing time.

Much greater emphasis must be put on hygiene in this area. It’s important to make sure that the pen is kept clean and dry to prevent disease for both the ewe and her lambs by using plentiful amounts of fresh straw.

Ideally, after a ewe – and her lambs – exit the individual pen, the bedding material should be removed and replaced with clean and dry straw. This will help reduce the disease risk, particularly for young lambs.

It may also be worth shaking a dry disinfectant or lime on the floor under the bedding to help prevent the spread of disease.

In the case where individual pens cannot be cleaned out then dry disinfectant or lime should be shaken over the existing bedding and plenty of fresh straw placed on top.

Hygiene in the lambing shed

Hygiene in housed sheep is particularly important for ewe health. If the flock is bedded on straw then it is essential to ensure that the bedding is kept clean and dry by topping up regularly with fresh, dry straw.

This will help prevent diseases such as lameness and mastitis. An easy way to test the bedding is to kneel down in it.

If your knees are damp then additional fresh, dry straw or a dry disinfectant (or lime) may need to be applied. If you wouldn’t kneel down in the bedding, then it’s advisable to add clean, dry straw.

Shaking dry disinfectant or lime on the existing bedding prior to renewing it with fresh straw can help prevent diseases such as lameness.

Floor space

During pregnancy, ewes – housed in straw bedded pens – will have a minimum space requirement.

According to Teagasc the space recommendations for a 70-90kg in-lamb ewe (unshorn) are 1.2-1.4 m². For a shorn in-lamb ewe weighing 70-90kg that space requirement decreases to 1.0-1.1m².

Naturally, the recommended space requirement increases to 2-2.2m² for a ewe with lambs at foot.

Some farmers will house their flock in slatted floor pens. Such a floor type will reduce the recommended floor space allowance for a 70-90kg unshorn ewe to 1.1-1.2m² and 0.9-1.0m² for a shorn ewe.

Feed space

If pens are stocked to the maximum then it is important to ensure that there is enough feeding space for each ewe.

For meal, the recommended feeding space, according to Teagasc, for a 70-90kg ewe is 500-600mm. For silage (or other forage) the feeding space recommendation for a 70-90kg ewe is 200mm.

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