Housing for sheep
Housing needs for sheep vary by climate, season(s) of lambing, and management preferences of the shepherd. If lambing will occur during periods
of inclement weather, more elaborate housing is usually required.
If lambing will occur on pasture during periods of mild weather,
simple shelters may be all that is needed.
Lambing percentages are usually higher when shed lambing is practiced.
Housed sheep have lower nutritional requirements, whereas sheep kept
outside have fewer respiratory problems.
In addition, most operations need facilities where they can store feed, bedding,
and equipment. Hay stored in a barn or shed will maintain its
quality better than hay that is stored outside, even if the
hay is covered. Equipment will last longer if it is housed under
a roof. An area is needed to quarantine new animals and keep sick ones. Separate housing is often needed for rams.
Barns (and similar structures) are often built for the comfort and convenience of the shepherd. During cold or inclement weather, it is easier and more enjoyable to care for sheep that are housed. However, housing costs can add significantly to the investment costs of a sheep enterprise.
There are many different types of housing that can be used for
sheep. Traditional barns, pole buildings, and metal buildings
are usually the most expensive, but they provide the best protection
for the shepherd, sheep, feed, and equipment.
A lower-cost alternative to traditional housing is a greenhouse-type
structure called a "hoop house." A hoop house has an
arched metal frame that is covered with a heavy fabric. Fabrics
last for approximately 15 years.
Sheep facilities do not need to be built new. Old dairy, swine,
and poultry barns can be converted to housing for sheep. Many facilities
can be remodeled to accommodate sheep raising. Many universities and provincial governments have building plans for sheep facilities.
Facilities should be located on elevated, well-drained sites.
When designing a three-sided shelter, the open side should face
south away from the prevailing wind. The barn should be easily
accessible for deliveries and manure handling. The site should
allow for installation of water and electricity.
When confined to a building, a bred ewe requires 12 to 16 square
feet of pen space. Lambing pens should be 16 to 25 square feet in
size. In group housing, a ewe with her lambs needs 16 to 20
square feet. Feeder lambs need 8 to 10 square feet.
Less space is required if sheep are raised on slatted floors
or if they have access to an exercise area or pasture. Shearing
before housing will allow stocking rates in the barn to be increased
by up to 20%.
Recommended housing space (square feet) for sheep and lambs
|Ewe with lambs
|Source: Midwest Plan Service, Sheep Housing and
Equipment Handbook, 1982
Barns should not be heated or closed up. Good ventilation is an
absolute must. Respiratory problems (e.g. pneumonia and bronchitis)
often result from poor ventilation. If ammonia can be smelled
in the barn, ventilation is likely inadequate. It is always a good idea to sit at the same level as the sheep to determine the air quality they are breathing.
be accomplished by either natural or mechanical means, but usually
naturally-ventilated cold housing is preferable for sheep. It
is better to over-ventilate than under-ventilate. Sheep, including healthy baby lambs, are very cold tolerent. What they need is a dry, draft free place to lamb and bond with their lambs.
Bedding provides warmth, insulation, and comfort to housed animals.
Various materials can be used for bedding for sheep, depending
upon cost and availability: straw, hay, dried corn stalks,
corn cobs, peanut hulls, cottonseed hulls, oat hulls, sawdust,
wood shavings, wood chips, pine shavings, sand, paper products,
peat, hemp, and leaves. Each type of bedding has advantages
Straw is the traditional bedding for livestock. It comes from
the stems of small grains: oats, wheat, rye or barley. Since
straw has many uses other than livestock bedding sometimes it
costs more than alfalfa hay. Sometimes low quality hay is a cheaper
option than straw.
Sawdust is not good bedding for wooled
sheep because it gets in their fleeces, but works fine for hair
sheep. Wood chips or peanut shells are less absorbent than other
materials, but can be used as bedding. Corn stalks are a decent bedding material for sheep.
Shredded paper (or newsprint) is more absorbent than straw,
but is more difficult to handle and may look offensive when
spread on fields. Sand has been used by dairy farms to reduce
mastitis and improve cow comfort. No matter what material is
used for bedding, it needs to be clean and dry.
Livestock bedding alternatives
Not having to clean the barn and spread manure on the fields is another major benefit to keeping
Shelter and Shade
There is disagreement as to whether sheep require shelter while
they are on summer pasture. In humid climates, it may be advisable. Sheep will usually choose shelter
if it is available to them. Protection from heat is probably more
important than protection from rain, though hair sheep are more
likely to seek shelter from rain than wooled sheep and less likely
to seek shade during the heat of the day.
In many cases, trees or a windbreak is all the shelter that sheep
need. In open fields without sufficient tree coverage, simple
run-in sheds or shade structures can be constructed or purchased.
Port-a-huts, calf hutches, polydomes, and carports are useful
for small flocks. Movable structures are a good alternative.
Sheep can adapt to a complete confinement system of production.
a producer to raise sheep or increase flock
size in situations where land is a limiting factor due to availability
or cost. Confinement can vary from open, dry (dirt) lots to buildings
with expanded metal floors and automated manure handling systems. Confinement
requires intensive, year-round management. Because it will liklely result in a higher cost of production, higher levels of performance
are usually required.
There are numerous advantages to raising sheep and/or lambs in
total confinement. Predator problems can be eliminated by keeping
sheep in confinement. Internal parasite problems can be practically
eliminated, as the vector for transmitting infective worm larvae is pasture. Coccidia oocysts, on the other hand, will be more numerous in confinement systems.
It is usually easier to control foot rot and foot scald in
confinement. Confinement lends itself well to automated feeding
systems. It is common to fatten (feed) lambs in confinement. Less
space is needed if expanded metal or mesh flooring is used. The use of rubber mats will improve comfort and insulation.
In fragile environments, confinement can prevent overgrazing or
other environmental impacts caused by poor grazing management. Zero grazing is common in many third world environments. Security is superior when animals are kept in small areas that can be more easily monitored.
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