When constructing a shelter for dairy sheep, it is essential to consider variables such as the sheep’s need for protection from the elements and potential predators. The amount of ventilation that will be provided and what type of flooring will be utilized in the space. Will you employ automated feeding and milking systems, and how many sheep will be housed in your facility?
Traditional barns, pole buildings, greenhouse hoop structures, and metal buildings are all ideas to keep dairy sheep. However, your design will be determined by your farming method, climate, and milking preferences. Permanent structures are pricey but give the highest level of protection.
But the weather is not the only thing to consider when choosing a shelter for your sheep. For example, you must consider what predators are in the area and what environment your sheep are in. That is why you must understand what to consider before settling on the kind of shelter you want for your sheep.
Types Of Shelter Ideas To Consider For Dairy Sheep
Dairy sheep may have specific housing requirements that change with the seasons, the number of lambs raised, and the shepherd’s preferences for making their jobs easier. For example, if the sheep lambing during inclement weather, they will require more structured housing. However, when lambing is planned for times of mild weather or on pasture, simple shelters may be all that is needed.
Below we will go into the various structures and farming methods employed and which shelter ideas we think will be best for your dairy sheep.
Keeping Them Outside Year-Round
Some farmers keep their sheep outside no matter the weather. That way, it has a more natural flow. Sheep that live outdoors can breathe easier and get more exercise. In addition, allowing animals to graze in the winter can result in significant cost savings on feed.
When keeping your sheep outside year-round, gathering them every time you want to milk them can be a hassle. However, many people found that using well-trained sheep dogs to herd them makes this much easier and worthwhile to keep them outside on pasture.
Sheep are frequently housed after shearing and especially during lambing. This is because lambs are more vulnerable to the detrimental effects of rain and cold than adult sheep. For example, assuming inadequate protection from the elements might cause a newborn lamb to die. The first weeks of a lamb’s life are when it is most vulnerable when left outside.
Therefore, temporary portable structures are placed on pasture for these mothers to house their lambs for the first few weeks.
Portable Structure Ideas For Dairy Sheep
Portable shelters can have different shapes and sizes, but they all serve the same purpose. The most common mobile shelter design consists of a half cylinder that can be pushed around a big open field to provide cover from the sun and rain.
Unfortunately, these shelters aren’t great against protection from extreme weather such as hail storms or windy, cold weather. Additionally, these shelters aren’t a great choice if predators are in the area, as it only provides cover from the top and two sides. They are usually open on the ends.
Opinions differ on whether sheep grazing in the heat of summer requires access to shade. Sheep will frequently take cover if it is available to them, especially in humid conditions. Sheep are generally pleased with a windbreak or tree cover for shelter. You can build or buy affordable shade sheds, or run-in sheds to provide temporary shelter in fields where there aren’t enough trees to provide shade.
Some examples of suitable housing for a small flock are portable huts, newborn hutches, plastic domes, greenhouse structures for wintertime, and even portable carports. These portable or temporary buildings are cost-effective until you can provide a more permanent solution, should you choose.
Permanent Structure Ideas For Dairy Sheep
Raising sheep and lambs in total confinement may have advantages due to increased control over all aspects of production. Sheep are safer from predators when kept inside at all times. Hoof trimming is more common in housed animals, and foot rot and foot scald can be managed better inside when you have scheduled cleaning.
Barn Shelters: Barns are used for more than just animal housing; they store hay, bedding, and tools. One can use a barn to bring your dairy sheep inside when the weather is terrible. They do not have to have a permanent residence in the barn. It is advised that rams should be housed separately. A designated area to quarantine newly introduced animals and sick sheep is also a good idea.
Greenhouse Shelter: A “greenhouse,” or “hoop house,” is a low-cost alternative to traditional shelter for sheep. When you don’t have a lot of veggies growing in the greenhouses in the winter months, you can convert them into a refuge for your sheep. A hoop house’s sturdy covering and arched metal framework are strong and can provide enough shelter against most elements. A good quality greenhouse covering could last up to 15 years, but the norm is much less than that.
Pole buildings: Pole buildings are structures made from metal and are then covered with some material that can be rolled up during warmer days to help with ventilation. These structures are almost the same as a hoop house but are much broader and longer. A great feature of pole buildings is their versatility to branch out to other activities in the warmer months or if you choose to go in a different direction with your farming.
Creating Permanent Feedlots
Feedlots can improve the production of dairy sheep because rather than allowing animals to roam freely on grassland, you feed them a diet of high-protein alfalfa hay to boost output. As a result, it is more efficient but more expensive to confine them in pens. They can eat more, and if sheared, you can up your capacity by 20%. The feedlot’s basic premise is to maximize the production rate while having complete control.
Most feedlots can begin operations once they have received official government permission, usually in the form of an agricultural site permit. Furthermore, feedlots would require a system to manage the massive amounts of waste produced by the large number of animals housed there. With many animals in close proximity, they will heat up much quicker, so keep an eye on their heat stress.
Natural Tree Shelter For Your Dairy Sheep
Planting tall trees can shelter your sheep from the elements, shielding them from the sun and rain. In addition, the sheep will have a secure environment to live in for many generations with minimal upkeep. The second option is constructing a windbreak wall out of trees by planting them in a long line to shield your sheep from the elements.
Ideas For Dairy Sheep Shelter Flooring
Sheep require traction-friendly and gentle flooring on their joints. We believe that dirt is the best surface for sheep. Dirt floors provide more cushion and traction than other flooring options while it will absorb urine. Still, they require some upkeep and can be more difficult to clean thoroughly than other substrates. Below are some other flooring ideas to use in your dairy sheep shelters:
Concrete Shelter Flooring
Concrete is one of the more commonly used floorings for shelters as it can help wear down hooves and be cleaned easily. However, even though concrete flooring gives good traction and requires less maintenance, it can be hard on the joints of your sheep. Alternatively, you could install texture mats to provide better cushioning for their joints but sacrifice how easy it is to clean the floor.
Wood Shelter Flooring
Wood is another standard option that people use for sheep shelters. Wood flooring requires more maintenance and does not provide much traction, but it does give slightly better cushioning for your sheep’s joints.
Bedding For The Shelter
Bedding not only keeps your sheep comfortable but also makes cleaning easy. Straw and wood shavings are common bedding materials, but hemp or flax are also suitable. Don’t use bedding that could hurt the sheep or be toxic (like some types of wood). Some farmers don’t use shavings because they can get stuck in the sheep’s fleece.
To reduce the chances of illness among your sheep, avoid using dusty or otherwise unclean bedding. Dusty or toxic bedding can be hazardous to your sheep’s health and the staff working and cleaning the shelter.
Slatted And Mesh Shelter Flooring
Most slatted and mesh floors are designed for ease of manure management. Slatted floors have replaced solid floors as the norm in modern production farms because they require significantly less maintenance. Hardwood is commonly used to make slatted floors, with standard cuts measuring 2 x 1 inch or 2 x 1.5 inch.
Because one of the sides is usually beveled, the opening is typically wider at the bottom than at the top. Because of the beveling, the slits are much less likely to become blocked. The slats are usually placed in horizontal lines facing the direction the sheep will be moving to prevent sheep from seeing through the floors.
This is especially important at the entrance and along the northern and western walls, where sunlight falls directly on the floor. Given that the space beneath the floor will always be dark, the orientation of the slats is a critical design element. However, this should not slow down the flow of your sheep when walking or cause any other issues.
How To Shelter Dairy Sheep Against The Weather
Sheep are vulnerable to a variety of climatic situations. As a result, providing adequate shelter for your dairy sheep flock is critical. Any natural shade or structure, such as trees, windbreaks, rock formations, or artificial covers, to house the sheep are examples of protection you can provide.
Shelter Ideas Against Heat Stress in Dairy Sheep
Heat stress is a significant risk for dairy sheep’s health and production. When sheep are subjected to heat stress, their milk output decreases. Sheep are affected by direct sunlight, high humidity, and radiant heat sources such as heated metal shelters. Providing shaded areas and shelter belts are great shelter ideas for dairy sheep.
Dairy Sheep Shelter Ideas Protecting Against Wind
Wind chill can cause hypothermia and increase the mortality rate of your dairy farm. Wind does not affect sheep much, but when combined with wet conditions, it becomes a problem and needs immediate attention. Having adequate shelter from storms and severe wind conditions is essential to protect your animals. Lambs and recently sheared sheep are the most vulnerable to wind chill.
When building a three-sided shelter, consider facing the open end away from the prevailing wind. Sheep will naturally move in the direction of the wind until they are met with a fence, causing them to clump up and suffocate. Therefore, windbreaks or other shelters in these conditions are paramount to their survival.
Rain Shelter For Dairy Sheep
As farmers, we are always happy when it rains, which means our crops and grazing fields can grow again. Although sheep are not affected by rain as much since their fleece can dispel most moisture, the combination of rain, wind, and hail is where the concern starts.
As mentioned before, wind chill can devastate your sheep, usually when it rains for an extended time, with high winds. This is because the moisture will penetrate the sheep’s fleece and make them cold.
Standing in pools of water or mud for extended periods can cause foot rot. Therefore shelter from the rain is essential. In addition, if your area gets a lot of hail, you should invest in proper sheltering that will not get damaged by the hail stones. Finally, remember that sheep are skittish animals, and loud noises like hail on a tin roof will frighten them.
Do Dairy Sheep Require Shelter Against Snow?
Sheep can handle cold, snowy weather well when they have adequate nutrition. It is expected that sheep can dig through a foot of snow to reach the grass beneath. This, too, depends on the type of snow. It will be harder for your sheep to get the grass if it is soft snow vs. drifted snow or iced-over snow. Longer grass pastures are better since the sheep can get to it easier, and the snow is not packed too densely on longer grass.
If the snow hasn’t been packed down or crusted over, sheep can get all the water they need from it, but if this has happened, you’ll need to provide water for the sheep at least once daily. Lactating ewes must have free access to clean water to maintain a steady milk production rate.
Sheep wool contains lanolin which prevents moisture from penetrating their fleece. So you will often see sheep with snow on their backs without any issue. Sheep also have a fermentation system that breaks down fiber inside their gut, keeping them warm. It is like having composting inside their body which is fascinating. Having shelter from snow is only particularly necessary if you have cold winds.
The Effects That Shearing Has On Sheltered Dairy Sheep
As dairy farmers, we know that when it is colder, we see an increase in food intake, which in turn creates more milk production. So what are the effects of shearing your dairy sheep? A study comparing the milk production of sheared sheep concluded that in some breeds like Lacaune, the milk production increased. Stocking rates in the barn can be boosted by up to 20% if the animals are sheared before being housed.
Shearing sheep is a good practice for managing your flock’s welfare and milk production. Shearing can also boost the heat transfer between your dairy sheep and their environment. When it is cold, your dairy sheep can be sheared. Their food intake will increase drastically to compensate for the energy needed to heat themselves from the inside. The benefit is that they will then increase their milk production too.
Best Shelter Ideas For Lamb Survival
The typical space required for a ewe and her lamb is around 15-20 square feet. Depending on the season the lamb is born will dictate the type of shelter needed to house the lambs to ensure their survival. The most vulnerable time is from the first few days to around 2 weeks. Adult sheep can withstand harsh weather conditions, but lambs can not yet. Therefore, adequate shelter is needed.
If you manage your flock appropriately, you can produce milk all year. Of course, it isn’t easy to maintain consistent milk production with only one group. Still, if you can manage two groups that give birth at varying times of the year, your milk production will be more effective, and your equipment costs will be lower.
Spring And Summer Births
Your milk production will decrease during lamb births in spring and summer. Ewes, on average, will lactate around 150 days with diminished capacity. Shelter for the hotter months should be focused on providing shade and windbreaks. Humidity is also a factor to consider depending on your region.
Winter And Fall Births
Try to have lamb birthing in the winter since this is the best for milk production. Lactating in the winter increases to around 200 to 240 days of milk production since the ewes eat more during this time. Shelters for the winter months depend on the amount of snow and wind chill your area receives.
Ideas For Fencing To Shelter Sheep From Predators
How you will set up your fences and the materials you will use will be determined by the type of land you own and the region in which you live. It is in your best interest to become familiar with the dangerous animals that could threaten your farm and other dangers like flooding. Investing in a few guard dogs or donkeys may be a good idea.
The first stage in effective predator management is the construction of a strong fence. Installing a fence is essential because it is the first line of defense against trespassers and other unwanted visitors. Unfortunately, predators can circumvent a fence in several ways, such as digging beneath it, leaping between its wires, climbing through gaps in the mesh, or simply jumping over it.
Woven Wire Fences
Woven wire (or net) fences that are inspected and repaired regularly will keep many predators out of pastures. Horizontal wires no more than 3 feet apart are adequate for the top section of the fence. Still, horizontal wires no more than 2 to 4 inches apart are required for your animals’ safety. Therefore, it is strongly advised to use woven wire fences as boundary or perimeter fences.
Electric fencing could be installed around the perimeter to deter predators further. Property fencing should be built with five strands of high-tensile smooth wire. Increasing the number of wires on the fence makes it more of a deterrent to predators.
For maximum efficiency, keep the wires at the proper distance apart. The distance between the bottom and top wires must be less than that between the wires in the middle. All of the wires can be energized in areas with adequate soil moisture.
If this is not an option, a 4 to 8-inch fence with live and earth wires will effectively keep predators out of the sheep’s pasture. All grass and bushes should be cut back so they don’t interfere with the cables. Weeds and grass that touch the fence can lower the voltage and cause it to lose efficiency. Herbicides or a hand-held weed cutter can keep fence lines clear of vegetation.
In conclusion, designing an effective dairy sheep shelter requires careful consideration of various factors such as the climate, terrain, sheep breed, and management practices. Providing ample ventilation, natural lighting, and adequate space are essential for the health and well-being of the sheep. Additionally, ensuring easy access to water, feed, and clean bedding is crucial for maintaining high milk yields and quality. Ultimately, a well-designed dairy sheep shelter can contribute significantly to the profitability and sustainability of a sheep farming operation, while providing a comfortable and safe environment for the animals.