Farm Ireland
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Saturday 21 January 2017

Pics: New €1m sheep housing facility has space for over 700 ewes

Greenmount College has invested close to €1m in a new sheep housing facility

Chris McCullough

Published 11/11/2016 | 16:00

The flooring systems at the Greenmount facility will enhance the flock’s hygiene and health
The flooring systems at the Greenmount facility will enhance the flock’s hygiene and health

County Antrim based Greenmount College has just opened up a luxurious new pad for the college's flock of hill sheep at Glenwherry costing a cool €917,000 (£825,000).

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However, the new home for 726 ewes is no ordinary shed as it is packed with the latest technologies and equipment money can buy.

It's true, no ordinary sheep farmer would go to such extraordinary lengths, never mind the cost, of erecting such an elegant dwelling, but this house is not for any ordinary flock of sheep.

A total of 1,100 ewes are based at the Glenwherry Hill Farm together with a 100-cow suckler cow herd grazing up to a height of 1,000ft above sea level.

A combi clamp aids the management of the sheep for dosing and inspection purposes
A combi clamp aids the management of the sheep for dosing and inspection purposes

The farm extends to 1,000 hectares, wrapped inside a 16 miles long perimeter, with only 40 of these hectares classed as improved grassland.

Situated at that height, the harsh winter weather really takes effect therefore the staff house the majority of the flock from mid-December onwards.

The original sheep housing at the farm has become very outdated and very labour intensive.

Moreover, three separate houses on different areas of the farmyard were used to accommodate the sheep which made it more difficult for the staff and students who were on lambing duties to keep an eye on them all.

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It's been in the planning and making for the past two years but finally the new 72m by 26m shed at the hill farm is finished in time to house 726 ewes this winter period.

There are 21 new technologies built into the new house to aid with the feeding, management and lambing of the ewes which are mainly Blackface Swaledale crosses and Texel crossbreds.

At the end of the race is a weighbridge and EID reader which can identify each animal in turn
At the end of the race is a weighbridge and EID reader which can identify each animal in turn

"The old houses had a capacity for 300 ewes and were over 30 years old," said CAFRE Farms Director Neville Graham. "During the heavy snowfall in March 2013, the flock suffered substantial losses as some of them were being out-wintered due to a lack of room.

"The sheep industry in Northern Ireland is worth £63m and employs 15 per cent of farm workers.

"This is the only government owned hill farm in Ireland and is a centre of education for students and farmers alike.

"It is also with that in mind that we have built this sheep house with all the latest technology. As it is an educational facility we wanted to show the top end of new innovations available for such a house. It cannot be compared, therefore, with a commercial sheep house."

The cameras are all linked to a central monitor placed in the kitchen of the shed used for mixing lamb milk
The cameras are all linked to a central monitor placed in the kitchen of the shed used for mixing lamb milk

It's not only the sheep which will benefit from the new shed as the college farm staff and students, as well as the Northern Ireland sheep industry, will also reap the benefits.

The new premises will give farmers and students access to innovative technologies and enable them to learn about the very latest sheep rearing and management techniques.

Among the cutting edge features of the sheep house are handling facilities, including footbaths, a curved race, handling units and equipment to identify, weigh and draft animals, enabling large numbers of animals to be handled safely and efficiently.

The facilities incorporate the latest sheep EID technology and software to aid management decisions. Also included are flooring systems to provide improved health and welfare of housed ewes and slurry management including tanks, mixing points and flush systems to provide adequate storage and safety for stock and operators.

Furthermore, the sheep house boasts environmentally sustainable rainwater harvesting technology and natural ventilation, helping to reduce overheads and minimise environmental impact.

The entire shed can be converted to a handling facility in a matter of minutes. Here there is a permanent race built to direct sheep to weighbridge
The entire shed can be converted to a handling facility in a matter of minutes. Here there is a permanent race built to direct sheep to weighbridge

The new shed was located on the most level field as close to the main farmyard as possible and it is central to the laneways leading down from the hills.

The shed eaves are four metres high with an 18 degree pitch roof. Three High Definition cameras with zoom lens are fitted along the main roof and a fourth one is placed over the lambing area. Each camera is linked to a central monitor located in a small kitchen in the shed which is used for mixing lamb milk.

The internal layout of 1800 square metres consists of a total of 17 slatted sheep pens floored using a suspended proprietary system to allow slurry to be collected in four below ground tanks.

Sheep will be housed in 15 8m by 6m pens which hold 44 ewes each and a further two pens at 6m by 6m which hold 33 ewes each. This allows a natural space per ewe of 1.1m2. The tanks are 1.2m deep with one extending to 1.8m deep due to the fall in the land. Mixing points are positioned outside the shed for safety reasons.

There is approximately 960 cubic metres of slurry storage in the shed which accounts for two years total slurry capacity for the livestock numbers housed there for a few months.

Tanks are slatted with the MIK stepper slat which has been specifically designed for sheep and goat flooring applications. The knobbed surface ensures high step safety and foot stability and it costs £35 (€39) per square metre.

Tanks are used to store rainwater harvested from the roof of the main shed
Tanks are used to store rainwater harvested from the roof of the main shed

The fact that manure can easily pass through the slots guarantees a clean and dry surface which supports general animal health.

Greenmount College choose the plastic slat instead of a wire mesh slat as it said the stepper slat would last twice as long with a life expectancy of around 20 years.

There is a 5m wide central feed passage through the building, accessed from either end via a roller shutter in the gable.

Separate to the main pens there are also 66 individual lambing pens and a sheep handling unit.

The house will act as accommodation for the sheep in the winter months from around mid-December but will revert to a handling facility during the other times of the year.

Each pen is made with gates that have a special bar that drops into brackets lower down on the gates. This will prevent the sheep entering the pens when the shed is being used as a handling facility.

In one corner there is a sheep race which leads onto a sheep clamping unit and an EID reader and weighbridge.

All drinkers in the pens are on the one water circuit and are of a new shallow design which only allows a small volume to remain in the bowl. This ensures the water stays fresher for the sheep.

Also, if temperatures drop in the winter time a heating system kicks in to ensure the water in the circuit never freezes and is always available to the animals.

The entire shed can be cleaned with a volume wash system using water from the rain harvesting system which has the potential to collect 23m3 of rain per week.

College director Martin McKendry said the new sheep facilities and the education, training and knowledge and technology transfer benefits they will deliver, will help underpin the future of sustainable sheep farming in Northern Ireland.

He said: "The international marketplace is becoming ever more competitive and it is vital, therefore, that we are positioned to equip our students and farmers with the knowledge and skills they need to develop and manage sustainable and successful farm businesses.

"This new facility will enable us to deliver the very best sheep management training to thousands of young people for many years to come."

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