Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 February 2018

Installing Appropriate sheep handling facilities saves huge amounts of time

Footbaths every two weeks are advised by John Large.
Footbaths every two weeks are advised by John Large.
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

Sheep farming is often seen as a labour-intensive enterprise. This is certainly the case where there are inadequate or indeed no handling facilities.

Initial survey data collected by Alan Bohan of Teagasc indicates that 33pc of farmers surveyed answered no when asked if they had a handling unit for their sheep enterprise.

This sample was from farmers engaged with the STAP scheme. Teagasc survey data from more than 10 years ago indicated that farmers with inadequate handling facilities had an increased labour input to the farm of 1.25hrs/ewe/yr compared to those farmers with good handling facilities.

This type of scenario will certainly lead to increased time spent performing the most basic of task (tasks being postponed or indeed abandoned) and increased hardships for man and beast.

For a 100-ewe flock (the national average), this equates to 125 hours more per ewe or an extra 16 working days per year.

The recent TAMS scheme has offered some incentives for the purchase of mobile handling facilities, though the grant aid is not as impressive as the 40pc may appear when the VAT situation is taken into account. Regardless, investment in appropriate handling facilities is money well spent. However, the key consideration is that the handling facilities are appropriate.

When constructing a handling unit, the very basic considerations include facilities for collecting sheep, handling/treating sheep and sorting/ drafting sheep.

The inclusion of inline weighing systems and turnover crates are also attractive.

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Indeed, for very large-scale operations, electronic ID readers and automated weighing and drafting facilities may be an option.

Assembly or collection pens should ideally be capable of handling the largest group of sheep that need to be handled at any one time.

The capacity of the catching or forcing pen (circular) will vary depending on the size of the animal being handled. To estimate the number of ewes that the forcing pen can contain, measure the radius of the pen in feet and then multiply it by itself (ie. 5ft x 5ft = a capacity of 25 mature ewes).

This is a rough guide. DAFM guidelines specify 0.3m2 per animal in the forcing pen. The forcing pen capacity should not be greatly less than the capacity of the race, likewise there is no benefit to having it larger than the capacity of the race.

For very large races, consideration needs to be give to actually forcing large numbers of sheep in this pen.


Regardless of whether inline or batch footbaths are being used, there is an advantage to having the facility to walk sheep through a water bath prior to foot-bathing.

This will clean the sheep and help to increase the lifespan of the foot bathing solution. Knowing the capacity is essential, too.

The width/design of the race is another consideration. For a single race, the width should be no greater than 800-900mm, with sloping walls to accommodate sheep of different sizes.

If the plan is to perform all tasks from outside the race, then the maximum height should be 850mm.

If a double race is considered, then a number of ventilation points should be included to avoid suffocation of young lambs.

Long races should include a dividing gate in the middle to minimise crushing of young lambs. The gate at the front of the race should be sliding rather than hinged and three-way drafting facilities should be included. Ideally, the farmer should not need to stand in front of the sheep to operate these facilities.

Roofing handling facilities is certainly attractive for the operator but can be very difficult to justify in most cases.

The following items should be considered when designing/building/purchasing sheep handling facilities:

* Sheep have wide-angle vision – they can detect movement behind them without moving their heads.

* Sheep should have a clear, unobstructed view towards where they are meant to move.

* Sheep move readily towards light and avoid dark areas, shadows and dead ends.

* Sheep move willingly around curves and corners into narrow races.

* Sheep follow one another, and the use of see-through panels may encourage them to move.

Indo Farming