Tips on winter housing for ewes ahead of lambing

Sheep producers need to make sure their winter housing is in order to maximise ewe and lamb productivity, according to EBLEX beef and sheep scientist Liz Genever.

As we enter winter, Dr Genever has advised sheep producers to prepare their winter buildings and plan for any potential housing problems this season.

In particular, producers are urged to ensure there is sufficient space for ewes to lie and feed, ahead of lambing time.

“Competition for space can contribute to serious health and welfare problems as nutritional and social stresses increase in the run up to lambing,” said Dr Genever.

For stock being kept in straw yards, she recommended a lying space for every animal of between 0.9sq m and 1.4sq m; and for those on slates a space of between 0.7sq m and 1.2sq m, dependant on the size of the ewe (see box below).

In addition she recommended a stocking rate of 30-40 ewes for every pen, and said the recommended space allocations could be reduced by 10% for winter shorn ewes, but feeding space must be retained.

“The length of the trough is more important than the overall space allowance, so all stock have access to concentrates or forage without unnecessary struggle or competition,” explained Dr Genever.

In addition to these preparations, she also recommended the following measures:

  • Ensure pens are long and narrow, not square, to maximise feeding space
  • Set up feed troughs so wasted feed can be removed easily and regularly
  • Feed ewes up to nine litres of water a day pre-lambing, and more afterwards
  • Ensure water bowls and troughs are designed and located so as to minimise fouling and freezing
  • Provide ample, dry and clean bedding to minimise foot-rot and hygiene problems
  • Keep on top of draughts, but ensure free air is circulated above the sheep
  • Ensure housing has good lighting to allow easy inspections of the stock
  • Where possible, set up a hospital area for sick or injured animals to prevent the spread of disease
  • Set up pens for ease of management in terms of cleaning, stock handling and movement

Furthermore, on top of these housing recommendations, Dr Genever said: “Managers are advised to make sure ewes receive booster vaccinations four to six weeks before lambing, and are grouped carefully by scanning result.

“Equally, ewes that are lame or affected by foot-rot should be separated as they are housed both for special attention and to prevent problems spreading throughout the flock.”

More information on winter housing for sheep and ewes for lambing, is available free of charge to levypayers in the Beef and Sheep BRP Manual 4: Target Ewe Management for Better Returns, available from