Simple rules of thumb can help improve sheep housing even in older, traditional buildings helping safeguard flock health, according to independent building specialist Mike Kelly.
“The aim is to maintain a clean, dry, well-ventilated environment for stock,” he told producers at the recent EBLEX open day at the Giffard family’s Chillington Farm.
Minimium floor area allowances, laid out in BS5502, recommended 0.9sq m for 45kg pregnant ewes rising to 1.2m for 68kg ewes.
BUILDING COSTS [£TOTAL-ROOF AND UPRIGHTS ONLY- £/SQ M]
|Monopitch 9.5m x 30m x 4.8m + 1m overhang||12,500 (43.60||18,500 (65.20)|
|Dual pitch 24m x 30m x 4.8m||22,000 (30.50)||35,000 (48.70)|
|Source: Mike Kelly, 2006|
“Although over a decade-old these recommendations still apply. If you’re looking to erect a new building I’d suggest increasing them by 20% putting spacing in line with RSPCA recommendations issued in June this year,” he said.
Trough spacing was also important and varied according to system. Where compound feeds were offered each ewe needed 40-50cm (16-20in) depending on its liveweight. This reduced to 18-23cm (7-9in) for ad-lib forage supplemented with twice-daily compounds.
Pen design varied, but producers should aim to have ewes housed in groups of 40 or less for easier management, he said.
“Ventilation is a key aspect of good housing. For each 100 ewes housed you need 4sq m of outlet space and twice that area for inlet spacing for the stack effect to work effectively,” he explained.
At Chillington Farm, Andrew Blenkiron – agent Smiths Gore’s farm manager – admitted the monopitch sheep sheds were now dated. “They’re 20 years old, so at the end of their original lifespan, but they still provide useful accommodation.”
With two inward-facing monopitch sheds, the design based on an eaves height of about 2.75m (9ft), a roof pitch of 10° and wide, uncovered, central feed passage had its failings, suggested Mr Kelly. “The main problem is rain blows up the roof into the gap and spoils the feed below.
“Based on the farm’s stocking rate of 250 ewes a shed and the rule of 4sq m outlet space per 100 ewes, this building needs a 40cm gap at the ridge the existing gap is far too wide. However, based on the stocking rate both pen spacing and feed fence space are adequate,” he calculated.
The cost of replacing buildings is high due in part to a hike in demand for steel from countries such as China, he said. “If you look at the costings it pays to go as big as you can afford. You never hear anyone complaining their shed is too big,” said Mr Kelly.
“A dual-pitch 24m x 30m x 4.8m package is so much cheaper than a monopitch because it’s a manufacturers’ standard package. Expect to double the cost to allow for groundworks depending how much labour you can afford to put in yourself,” he advised.
Mr Blenkiron had looked at costings for bringing all the estate’s 1600 ewes together for winter housing and lambing rather than using a number of outlying buildings. “At £100 a ewe place it looks prohibitive even if you can utilise the space for grain storage at other times.”
Timber and polytunnel-type buildings would be marginally cheaper, but both had compromises, said Mr Kelly. “Go for what you can afford. Get the shell up first and worry about the internal fittings later,” he advised.
Early lambing ewes will be housed in December at Chillington Farm in the run up to a two-week lambing period in January ahead of the main flock.
Andrew Blenkiron, Smiths Gore’s farm manager, and the estate’s shepherd Tim Cooke will wash and disinfect all housing. “Once dry we spread burnt lime on floors and bed up with clean straw,” explained Mr Blenkiron.
Ewes are scanned, vaccinated for clostridial disease and footbathed in the run up to housing. “As we clear the shed and move ewes and lambs to the nursery area, we can close off some penning and disinfect with a knapsack before bedding up with clean barley straw and allowing new stock to come in from outlying barns. It’s a system that works well,” added Mr Blenkiron.