Q&A: Expert guide on how to set up sheep housing

Poor sheep housing can harm animal welfare causing dampness, dirty sheep, cold sheep and lambs, poor hygiene potential and increased feet problems.

And it can also make harder work for farm staff through poor use of time, poor health and safety and bad visibility.

Hayley Parrott put some of the key questions about sheep housing to Jamie Robertson of Livestock Management Systems.

What is most important in the layout of a sheep shed?

Key layout considerations are:

  • Pen feed space: Any group that receives concentrate feed should provide enough feed space to allow all sheep to feed at once. One underfed ewe means others are overeating, and the underfed ewe will produce lighter lambs and be more susceptible to disease pressure, putting the whole group at risk.
  • Pen depth: The maximum number in a pen is often set by feed space, so minimum pen depth can be set by reference to standard stocking densities.
  • Gate widths that also serve to shut off passageways when open help with easy handling of sheep.
  • Locate handing areas so sheep leaving pens are attracted towards the outdoors.
  • Handling pens: Try and keep pen sizes in proportion to group numbers, so allow for a whole group, half a group or multiples of group numbers in the pen.
  • Refer to Red Tractor guidance and keep sheds tidy – equipment lying about is a massive impediment to easy handling.

What is a good flooring? 

A wood float finish on concrete. All floors must drain and need a one in 60 slope to do so. Many floors don’t drain well. Simple channel drains set into the floors, to stop dirty water going sideways work well.

Broken floors are significantly harder to clean; some would say impossible, so need repairing. See ‘Are there simple measures/adaptations to aid cleaning to reduce disease?’, below for more info.

See also: How to identify and treat the five sheep ‘iceberg diseases’

Should I consider a slatted floor?

Yes. The debate of straw v slats is very poor quality and tends towards straw being good from every point of view. 

The fact is good straw-based systems are good, and bad systems are bad. The same counts for slats (see ‘Slatted floors’, below for guidelines). 

Straw can be a considerable variable cost, and quality last year was very poor across the UK. People were paying a lot of money for damp, poor-quality straw that cost them more money as the winter went on, adding dampness and mycotoxins to systems. 

Slatted floors

  • They are suitable for lambs and sheep from 12 weeks to 12-months-old at 0.65-0.8sq m stocking density and 0.8-1.1sq m for ewes, dependent on weight
  • The target is well maintained slats, plastic or timber
  • The surface of the slat should have chamfered edges or be curved with a radius of 3mm
  • They should have a 60mm slat width and 16mm gap spacing although some practical experience would suggest 14mm gap is OK
  • Where the slat is more than 10mm deep, the slat sides should slope in by 5deg at least
  • Bedding should be used on slats for newborn and young lambs.

How important is ventilation

All sheds with livestock must be well ventilated. The general statement is to provide solid walls to just above animal height (1.2m above the highest bedded level), and inlets above that height. 

Most ventilation is provided by the wind, and therefore any solid cladding is not optimal. Publications on the AHDB website provide detail on the practical design of inlets and outlets

Where should water troughs be sited?

Access is the most important factor here. A 600x250x250mm trough should be adequate for 20 ewes. If located at the end of a pen, this can be shared by adjacent groups.

Put the trough on a plinth to help keep the water clean or provide a 150mm step up to it. A plug at the base will facilitate cleaning into drain below.

Are there simple measures/adaptations to aid cleaning to reduce disease?

We need greater realism about hygiene in our systems. Too many components are not cleanable, and well past their sell-by date. Pen divisions, feed troughs, milk teats; all can be cleaned better. Cracks in floors are hard to clean.

If you can run a fingernail across a surface after cleaning and find a dark-coloured, greasy deposit, the pen is not clean.

This greasy, waxy material is biofilm, and a significant number of pathogens live comfortably in the biofilm, protected from disinfectants.

It is necessary to have a deep clean of all components before housing stock. All organic matter should be removed. Using steam cleaning and detergent, rinse out, apply disinfectant after discussion with vet, rinse and, critically, allow to dry.

Any claim from producers they don’t have enough time to do the job properly is an admission of a lack of professionalism.

Once properly cleaned, consider using resin coatings to seal cracks in floors and walls. Old walls can be rendered to above animal height to facilitate easier cleaning for the next 20 years. 

How should sheds be cleaned during lambing – lime/disinfectants, for example?

Only use water to clean during lambing if the pen can be dried effectively and remove all organic matter.

Use slaked lime or similar, such as dry disinfectants, but do not breathe them in. Any pen with scouring lambs may need a specific disinfectant – this should be discussed with your vet.

Ensure vaccination of ewes is 100% competent because shedding of pathogens is at its highest at lambing time.

Can sheds be shared with other livestock around lambing time? And how does this effect layout?

Sharing is not an issue if the following are addressed:

  • Overall building capacity; stocking density, ventilation capacity
  • Biosecurity
  • Stock flow
  • Daily tasks

The last factor is too often overlooked. Modern systems are frequently worked on tight labour margins, and if more attention is given to ability to perform daily tasks easily, the more likely a system is to be effective.

Do you have any labour-saving tips for lambing sheds?

My key tips would be:

  • Good lighting that can be easily increased/decreased.
  • A work station with light/storage/medicines fridge if needed.
  • Easy access to clean water – for a damp climate it is amazing how often on farm it is not easy to access clean water.
  • Provide steel/timber frames inside or close to lambing sheds so bags of feed and big bales can be located ready for use. If raised off the floor it does not reduce available floor space, and you can use gravity to fill feed buckets/carts.
  • Provide decent carts with decent tyres to facilitate moving feed, straw and individual sheep. We are so behind Europe in the use of decent materials and handling kit that make daily tasks easier.
  • Consider mini-milk feeders for automatic feeding of orphan lambs.
  • Have a store at hand for consumables; needles, sprays, heat lamp bulbs, ear tags.

Stocking densities 

Sheep housing systems (including corrals and slatted flooring) must be of sufficient size to allow all livestock to lie down simultaneously, ruminate, rise, turn around and stretch without difficulty. Recommended space allowances are outlined below

Recommended space allowances 



Space allowance (sq m)

Lowland ewes (60-90kg liveweight)

Ewe only

1.2 – 1.4 per ewe

With lambs at foot

2.0-2.2 per ewe and lambs

Hill ewes (45-65kg liveweight)

Ewe only

1.0-1.2 per ewes

With lambs at foot

1.8-2.0 per ewe and lambs


Up to three months

0.5-0.6 per lamb

Three months to 12 months

0.75-0.9 per lamb



1.5-2.0 per ram

All recommended space allowances for sheep have been taken from the Code of Recommendations for Welfare of Sheep.