Key considerations to take into account when housing ewes

With the housing of ewes well underway on many farms and with some having housed for a few weeks now, a couple of key considerations should be taken into account.

The housing of ewes marks the beginning of a busy period, as the countdown to lambing begins. It also allows pastures a well-earned rest, after a long-grazing season.

Important aspects of sheep housing, such as feed space, lying space and ventilation are important to get right and will be discussed in this article.

The following are among the key considerations when assessing the suitability of an existing housing facility:

  • Sufficient feed space so that all ewes comfortably eat concentrates at one time being fed by one person without entering sheep pens;
  • Adequate floor space depending on housing system;
  • Ventilation that will help keep fresh air in the shed and remove any airborne pathogens and other harmful bacteria;
  • Number of pen divisions so that ewes can be grouped by scanned litter size and expected lambing date;
  • 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 eight 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 the front of the pen, then relatively shallow pens of 2.5m 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 the number of ewes that can be accommodated in these pens balancing floor space and feed space.

Ventilation

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 the 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.

Data source: Department of Agriculture

Tips

  • Ensure sheep housing is thoroughly cleaned out well in advance of the 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 an 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;
  • Footbathe 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 the environment clean and dry.