Sligo sheep farmer on converting a cattle shed into housing for his mid-season lambing ewes
Converting existing cattle housing to accommodate an expanding sheep enterprise requires a blend of making best use of what you have, creative thinking and a knowledge of what the key housing requirements are for ewes in late pregnancy.
Philip Higgins has made use of all three in converting a shed previously used for store cattle into winter accommodation for 280 of his mid-season lambing ewes.
The key design features that Philip had in mind for his converted sheep shed were primarily to reduce labour and to maximise animal welfare. Plastic slatted flooring as used in existing sheep housing was Philip's preference based on past experience and suitability at lambing time.
Although it is more expensive, Philip says it will eliminate the labour and cost associated with bedding pens.
Where straw is used to bed sheep, the costs can vary from €6 to €15 per ewe depending on the length of the winter housing period, the dry matter percentage of the forage fed and the availability of the straw. In counties where there is not a readily available supply of straw, the cost can increase dramatically as we have all witnessed this year.
Slatted flooring will also reduce the incidence of lameness and allow 10pc 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 animal health issues that commonly occur when all four are deficient. Philip made a conscious decision to retain the cattle slats in place and to erect plastic sheep slats over the existing concrete slats leaving 36cm between both sets.
He will flush out the space between the existing and new slats with water every two weeks using a 2in hose attached to the gate valve of his slurry tanker. This worked well last year and avoided a build-up of sheep manure between both sets of slats.