What’s in Your Livestock Shed? Ewes, robots and clever inventions

Our What’s in Your Shed machinery series has been so popular, we’ve decided to create a version specially for livestock farmers, called, you’ve guessed it, What’s in Your Livestock Shed.

Leicestershire sheep farmer Gareth Owen kicks off our new series, as we pay him a visit in the build up to lambing.

Gareth’s livestock shed is a 240 x 126 feet single-span building on his 263ha farm in Launde, Leicestershire, which he runs with his wife, Hannah.

Gareth, Hannah and Joey Owen © Tim Scrivener

Gareth, Hannah and Joey Owen © Tim Scrivener

Vital statistics and kit

Large enough to house 2,000 ewes in the run up to lambing, the shed is currently home to a mix of 1,500 North of England mules and Aberfield cross Beulah ewes. Ewes are housed from mid-January, and go back out when they lamb in March and April.

The shed is divided into nine 14ft-wide passage, of which six are split into sheep pens – 12 in each row. The remaining feed passages are occupied by the shed’s Lely robot.

Farm Facts

  • 263ha
  • 1,500 ewes currently housed
  • Shed holds up to 2,000
  • Mainly North of England mules, but switching to Aberfield cross Beulah ewes
  • Shed dimensions: 240 x 126 feet
  • Lambing scheduled to start mid-March
  • Pens for lambing across the yard
  • All lambs are sold fat

Mr Owen, who lives off-site with his wife and three children, told Farmers Weekly, building the shed facilitated their move to a full TMR feeding system, allowing them to reduce feed costs and labour.

“The shed was designed to really maximise the number of sheep we could get in and the feeding system,” says Mr Owen.

“The feeding system is mimicking what the sheep would be doing outside.”

What would you do differently if you were to build it again?

We put a lot of thought into the design, but there is always going to be something we can improve on or do differently.

We’d probably just like the pens to be bigger to give the sheep more lying space. Especially towards lambing, when we feed the better silage – the richer and wetter silage – so it’s more of a challenge to keep the beds clean.

The shed’s nine 14-foot passages are absolutely fine, but if the pens were just 16 feet deep – another two – it would probably just make that bit of difference.

Having said that, if the pens were bigger we’d only put more sheep in them, so we’d probably be back to square one.

Sheep are housed here until they have lambed, they are then transferred to an individual pen in the lambing shed across the yard. This is a bit of a limitation, as some ewes can be difficult to manoeuvre across the yard.

Gareth Owen's shed © Tim Scrivener

© Tim Scrivener

Latest purchase? 

Our latest purchase is a sheep handling system from Australia.

We applied for a Countryside Productivity Grant last summer – which we found out about in December – to improve our handling facilities. It has been a limitation of our system to date not to have a fixed static system beside the shed.

We did a lot of research as to who we would use and through our contacts in Australia we approached Proway. We met up with them, and they were very keen to design something that would meet our requirements and fit in the available space.

The grant’s allowed us to fulfil the project more than we would otherwise, which is great because it’ll make a big difference to our ability to handle sheep.

We’re putting in a covered area over the main handling area of the yard, and we’ll probably lay more concrete, which is extremely expensive, than we would have.

Ewes feeding © Tim Scrivener

© Tim Scrivener

Best bargain buy?

The second-hand Kuhn feeder wagon that got us started with feeding the TMR.

What’s next on your wish list?

A bigger feeder to reduce feeding time and some handy turnout paddocks close to the shed.

What’s your best invention? 

In terms of the lambing routine, the little white boards that follow the pens and the sheep through our lambing system have been invaluable.

They contain information like the day each ewe has lambed and how many she’s had.

It means whoever is there at any time of day has all the information at hand.

We used to keep a lambing book – you’d write down the sheep number and any bits and pieces – but there’s only one of them. We’ve got two sheds, so it was never in the right place at the right time.

What couldn’t you live without at lambing? 

My honest answer would be reliable people. You simply couldn’t do this on your own. To have really good people to rely on, from my point of view, is invaluable at lambing time.

Hannah is very good at lambing time. We have quite a lot of extras in, so she cooks for them, and she does spend a lot of time in here and on turnout duty.

James, our shepherd is absolutely excellent at lambing time. He does all the recording, he takes huge pride in attention to detail.

What would you build/buy if you won the lottery? 

Build a house on site and employ a nanny and cook, that way Hannah could be in here 24 hours a day.

What’s been the biggest housing management change in the last five years?

We’ve gone from twice-a-day feeding to once-a-day ad-lib feeding using a Lely robot to push up feed.

It’s gone from a very traditional – feeding out of bags and walk through troughs – to what is now a fully mechanised system. Now the sheep are all fed and bedded with machinery. It’s freed up time and reduced our costs.

Lely robot in Gareth Owen's shed © Tim Scrivener

© Tim Scrivener

What the robot enables us to do is to really push the intakes of the sheep. I say that we feed once a day, but every time it goes [14 times a day] it is ensuring there is food in front of them, allowing us to achieve consistently higher forage intake and reduce our bought in feed costs.

The sheep are very content in this system and from a management point of view we have tighter control on costs.

What’s your funniest lambing story?

As hard work as it is, lambing is great fun. We enjoy having new members of the team, however we had one very impractical vet student who thought the pressure washer was the drenching gun. We also once found our daughter feeding a ewe milk from a bottle. The ewe thought it was great.

Fancy showing us what’s in your livestock shed? Then contact us and let us know. You can email fwlivestock@rbi.co.uk or mark.astley@rbi.co.uk or tweet Mark @MarkAstley