Most sheep can live perfectly well outside all year, provided they have sufficient food, water and natural shelter. However, there may be reasons why you want to bring your sheep inside, even briefly.
Fleece needs to be dry to be shorn, so if you are using a contract shearer, who will be coming at a prearranged time, it’s useful to have an area under cover just in case it rains on the day or the day before.
If your grazing is limited and / or your ground heavy, you may decide to house your flock over winter to protect your grassland.
Many sheep-keepers also choose to house the flock at lambing time. There are pros and cons to this. To protect the newborn lambs, hygiene needs to be very good to prevent cross-infection. On the other hand, it is much easier to adequately supervise the ewes if they are housed.
Some flocks are managed to lamb in winter – December /January - so in these systems, the ewes and lambs are housed. These are usually early maturing breeds such as the Poll Dorset and the lambs are fed a concentrate feed so that they are ready for slaughter at about 12 weeks of age, in time for the Easter market. The ewes will normally be shorn at housing.
We have an open sided barn and bring the ewes in at night during the lambing period. They are happy to come in to be fed and have access to hay, water and a mineral lick overnight.
Individual pens are built at one end of the barn and any ewes that lamb in the night (or during the day) will spend 48 hours or so in there to ensure that a) the ewe is fine, b) the lambs are healthy and well-suckled and c) ewe and lambs are bonded.
If you are going to house your sheep, you will need adequate space – not less than 1.5 square metres per ewe. You will also need to provide adequate trough or hayrack space (not less than 50cm per ewe) and access to clean water. Most importantly, the building must be adequately ventilated; sheep can suffer from respiratory problems if the air is warm, damp and doesn’t circulate well.
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