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Thursday 20 September 2018

Expanding sheep farmer on completing his new slatted sheep house

Well designed sheep sheds reduce workloads and boost flock welfare

Clifford Richardson on the family farm in Carigallen, Co Leitrim
Clifford Richardson on the family farm in Carigallen, Co Leitrim
Clifford Richardson is in the final stage of completing his slatted sheep house and hopes to have all sheep housed by mid-January

Tom Coll

Erecting a new farm building can be a daunting task for many farmers.

There are many hurdles to cross from when the decision to build is made until the stock are finally housed.

Clifford Richardson is in the final stage of completing his slatted sheep house and hopes to have all sheep housed by mid-January. The first decision made by Clifford was the siting of the new building.

He decided to build adjacent to the existing farmyard buildings close to the existing water and ESB supply and allowed adequate distance from other buildings for access by delivery lorries and for other farming activities.

Clifford Richardson is in the final stage of completing his slatted sheep house and hopes to have all sheep housed by mid-January
Clifford Richardson is in the final stage of completing his slatted sheep house and hopes to have all sheep housed by mid-January

The current farmyard is ideally situated in the centre of the farm. Planning permission was obtained for the new structure and Clifford then applied under the TAMS II young farmer capital investment scheme to build a slatted sheep unit.

Design

Clifford's main inspiration for the design of the slatted house came from visiting other farms with slatted accommodation for sheep, picking up ideas and ensuring that they fitted in with the Department of Agriculture minimum specifications for wintering facilities for sheep S146.

The key design features that Clifford had in mind for his new sheep shed were primarily to reduce labour and to maximise animal welfare. Slatted flooring for sheep is more expensive to build but will eliminate the labour and cost associated with bedding pens.

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Where straw is used to bed sheep the costs can vary from €6 to €12 per ewe depending on the length of the winter housing period and on the dry matter pc of the forage fed.

In counties where there is not a readily available supply of straw the cost can increase dramatically as we have all witnessed in the last few months.

Slatted flooring will also reduce the incidence of lameness and allow 10 pc more sheep to be housed in the same space. A well designed sheep shed can reduce the labour associated with feeding, bedding and handling.

Adequate ventilation, water supply, animal feeding and lying space will reduce a lot of animal health issues that commonly occur when all four are deficient.

Clifford's shed is a portal frame construction with a 3.6m wide central passage which allows adequate space for feeding round baled silage.

Solution

The plastic slats used in the shed are ideal for ewes at lambing but can become blocked and dirty where hay or unchopped silage is fed. The ideal solution is to feed pit silage or well chopped bales.

The other advantage that slatted flooring gives over bedded pens is that the ewe is always standing at the same height relative to the feeding passage.

The slatted pens are 4.5m by 6m with 600mm walk through troughs on each side. At a stocking rate of 25 ewes per pen this will allow 600mm meal feed space per ewe allowing for the length of a ewe at two of the corners.

This gives a lying space of 1.1 metre squared per ewe which is in keeping with the Department of Agriculture specifications for a medium sized ewe around 70kg.

Allowing 600mm of a meal feeding space per ewe was one of Clifford's main priorities, especially with a high prolific flock carrying twins and multiple lambs in the weeks prior to lambing.

Inadequate feed space can lead to reduced feed intake with shy feeders, can lead to abortions from injury caused by ewes pushing to get to feed and can increase incidence of vaginal prolapse in heavily pregnant ewes.

An adequate constant supply of clean water is essential in every animal house.

Clifford will install a bowl type drinker in each pen which can be easily cleaned out and will be positioned at a height of 600mm above the slatted floor. Feeding barriers will all have a bottom board 260mm from the floor and a head feeding space of 250mm through which the ewe eats without causing undue pressure to the back of her neck or throat.

The costs associated with building slatted accommodation for sheep based on a 1.8m deep tank and a lying space of 1.1m/ewe using the Department of Agriculture's reference costs for TAMS II is around €460 per ewe. For qualifying young farmers like Clifford receiving a 60 pc grant will reduce the cost to €184 per ewe.

This however will increase if the young farmer chooses to build a slatted house for more than 170 ewes as the maximum grant ceiling is based on a spend of €80,000 for a sole applicant. This equates to a maximum grant of €48,000.

In comparison a solid floor sheep house with penning will cost around €240 per ewe or €96 per ewe for the qualifying young farmer.

In this case the €80,000 ceiling will suffice for housing for 330 ewes. I would like to wish you all a happy, safe and prosperous new year.

Tom Coll is a Teagasc advisor based in Mohill, Co Leitrim

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