Make it easy to handle
With a multitude of tasks to take care of, the sheep farmer needs a proper handling unit
An effective handling unit is an essential piece of equipment for every serious sheep farmer.
If we look at all the tasks that have to be carried out, a typical sheep farm could end up having to handle sheep as follows:
- April: First worm dose and footbath
- May: Second worm dose and footbath
- June: Weaning or drafting lambs from ewes, weighing lambs, drafting first lambs for slaughter, worm dose lambs, footbath, draft off replacement ewe lambs, fly strike prevention
- July: Weigh, draft lambs, footbath, draft off cull ewes, segregate ewes according to body condition
- August: Weigh, draft lambs, worm dose, footbath, prepare rams for mating season
- September: Weigh, draft lambs, worm dose, footbath, footbath ewes, treat lame ewes
- October: Weigh, draft lambs, footbath and routine health care of breeding sheep before ram turnout
- November: Weigh, draft lambs
- December - March: Routine healthcare before and during housing.
In a nutshell, it means that the sheep will have to be handled, treated, drafted or weighed about 30 times a year. On farms where the entire holding is in one block, a permanent handling unit that is centrally located to the grazing area is the best option. However, most drystock farms are fragmented and this is where a mobile handling facility comes to the fore.
But what is an effective handling unit? When I was a teenager I spent some time working on sheep farms where sheep were driven into an old house or a pen made of pallets in a corner of the field. The operator then waded through the sheep, wrestling with them to dose them, then they had to be marked with a marker pen so they wouldn't end up being dosed a second time before moving to the next sheep.
Drafting involved having to physically drag each sheep out of the pen and as foot-bathing was non-existent, paring and numerous tins of blue antibiotic spray were used. Needless to say, this type of activity is time-consuming, stressful for both man and beast and, in terms of foot care, not at all effective.
An effective handling unit should have:
1) Collecting pen or yard -- This should be big enough to hold the maximum number of sheep that the farm runs in one flock. Allow 0.35m per lowland ewe (add 30pc per lamb).