Smallholders Insurance from Greenlands

Author Topic: Sheep housing  (Read 5919 times)


  • Joined Apr 2011
Sheep housing
« on: January 15, 2012, 04:03:03 pm »
We'll be (hopefully) lambing for the first time this year. Due to us only having a bit of land and a couple of stables (full of hay/straw, lawn mower, junk...,) it won't be possible to lamb indoors.
I'm thinking of bringing the ewes in to a smaller paddock just before lambing where I can see them and leaving the stables open in case any want to go in.
Or do I need to set up pens with sheep gates in the stables for ewes with lambs?
Just wondered whether other people lambed outdoos and what they did?

Also, we have had alot of rain and some of our ground is muddy, with not alot of other fields to move sheep to. I read on TAS that some people house their sheep over winter to give their ground a rest, although I don't know of anyone doing this. Does anyone else?
Thanks, Joanne xxx



  • Joined Mar 2010
  • Just when I thought I'd settled down...!
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2012, 04:11:39 pm »
What breed and age are they? That'll help judge how likely they are to need help.

Small paddock sounds good, I might be inclined not to have the stables "open access" but available to use if you need - e.g. to pen a ewe and lambs together to make sure they've bonded and are suckling well.

My outdoor lambing experience comprised more dawn/dusk patrols around a large field (haven't had to intervene with Hebs yet, touch wood). BUT it was a nightmare to round up and tag lambs and try and match them to their mothers. Put them in a pen and they all forget who they belong to  ::) Easier in some ways to tag-as-you-go but this means catching them (Heb lambs are surprisingly fast), possibly upsetting the ewe at a delicate time...  :-\

Someone more experienced will be along in a moment!  ;D


  • Joined Aug 2010
  • Aberdeenshire
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2012, 04:41:07 pm »
Not necess that more experienced  :D

With our Shetlands they always lamb outside, But I set up a couple of pens inside the barn. As soon as I see they have lambed, I spray the navel with iodine spray and get the lambs (upside down holding both back legs in one hand, so can take twins, and walk (with Mum following her babies) to the barn. If any of the new family is a bit weak or wobbly I use a little lambing trailer towed by the quad (it has a divider for lambs to still see Mum but not be trodden on if we go over a bump), but thats not essential

Then I pop them in a pen with some nuts for Mum and water, and they stay there for a few hours (nice weather, lambs thriving, girls so they dont need castrating) or overnight (horrid weather or one or more boy lambs as I castrate them at a day old). This gives the lambs a chance to dry off, get warm and me to check that they are mothered up and drinking well.

Ive never had any mismothering or rejection problems this way. Tagging I have been doing at 9 months (the limit for extensively kept sheep in Scotland) as otherwise they tend to tear the tags out and Shetlands have v small ears.

Housing sheep has as many downsides as advantages particularly the cost of feed/forage and especially the much increased risk of disease. Unless yours are a very soft breed like blue faced leicesters or commercials who might have zillions of lambs or enormous single lambs, I would lamb outside for sure;  but because of the mud def pop them inside as soon as born just for a day or two.

NB if reusing the lambing pens its best to completely change the bedding and disinfect between 'customers'


  • Joined Apr 2011
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2012, 05:07:03 pm »
Thank you for your advice.
Should have said that we've got 10 Hebridean ewes, and a Hebridean ram , so good to hear that they generally make good mothers.
I'm getting worried now because both me and my husband will be at work during the day (although I could pop home at lunchtime). Of course, we have a rough lambing date but that can change and I can't just take weeks off work and wait!
How often do you check your sheep during the day? Do you need to be on hand all the time?
How am I going to match them to their mothers if I arrive home and there's few wandering about?
Thanks, Joanne


  • Joined Jul 2011
  • Port O' Menteith, Stirlingshire
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2012, 06:14:20 pm »
With Hebs that are bred pure I would be very very surprised if you have much bother at the lambing. Having them in a wee field where it is easier to keep tabs on them is a good idea and having a pen already set up if you do have a problem is always a sensible precaution. Given the breed that you are using I think you will have less problems with lambing outside rather than inside. If they are not used to being inside the ewes won't settle properly and that can damage the bond with the lambs.
As they lamb just spray the navels once the lambs have been licked dry and make sure that they have suckled (you can check this by lifting the lamb off the ground by both front feet, putting your ear to their nose and giving their belly a sharp squeeze with the other hand. If they exhale sharply then they are sucked). I find that even with small numbers of sheep it is a good idea to put a number on the side of the twins (same number on both lambs) then you know who belongs where. With Black or coloured lambs orange is a good colour to use. If you are feeling super organised put a number on the side of the ewe before lambing then when the ewe lambs put the same number on her lambs and then it is much easier to keep tabs on the whole family.
It's always worse for someone else, so get your moaning done before they start using up all the available symathy!


  • Joined Apr 2010
  • Perthshire
    • Brucklay Pygmy Goats
    • Facebook
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2012, 06:29:28 pm »
Like you JMB - I only have a few ewes to lamb last year and a very full shed - they were Jacobs and lambed well outdoors but I had I pen set up and let ewe and lambs stay indoor for a night so I could make sure all was ok - then they went out - saying that we had a great April last year and very little rain which was a blessing for the lambs - I think just in case one pen set up would be a good idea. Heb's should be absolutely fine out outdoors - good luck
Pygmy Goats, Shetland Sheep, Zip & Indie the Border Collies, BeeBee the cat and a wreak of a building to renovate!!


  • Joined Aug 2011
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2012, 07:56:15 pm »
I routinely lamb out of doors. I had a field shelter on one of the fields I rent (it blew down last week) which I put a couple of pens in in case of any mismothering. You could quite easily pen out of doors (which is what I'll have to do this year) and use bales as a windbreak and a tarp to keep the rain off. The ewes are all spray numbered when I do the Heptavac prior to lambing. When the lambs are born (or when I notice they have been born) I let them mother up for a while, waiting till I've seen them suck. I then catch and iodine navels and spray number (the same no as the ewe so I can tell whos is whos) in the field (I use different coulors for rams and ewes). I don't tail or ball as as far as I'm concerned, its just another site for infection and any rams ought to be sold before it taints the meat. I tag as soon as I feel they can stand a gather.


  • Joined Dec 2009
  • St Boswells, Scottish Borders
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2012, 09:01:05 pm »
Re castrating the ram lambs - if you have hebs and intend to sell the lambs at (probably) nearly a year old it is helpful to have them castrated by rubber ring, unless you have several fields available where they can live in the autumn/winter away from the girls. You will need a separate field anyway to have the breeding flock (ram plus ewes) away from the lambs.

Hebs are fine to lamb outside, think about a numbering system beforehand and you will be fine. Checking in the morning, lunchtime and later afternoon is probably fine, but you may have to be prepared to stay and watch if a ewe is lambing and it doesn't look to be going too well (it usually will...).


  • Joined May 2010
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2012, 11:23:53 pm »
For identifying whose lamb is whose, we use turkey wing tags, like little metal padlocks, which are applied by hand and can be re-used if sterilised.  We keep careful written records, then we put in the proper tags at weaning.  The lambs will be next to their mothers so it's easy to tell who's who, unless someone has stolen someone else's lamb - they are good mothers but can sometimes get carried away with enthusiasm  :D  We have found that marker spray is licked off.
Hebs usually have no problems lambing but that cannot be guaranteed so you should check them as often as you can, and as Anke says, you should be prepared to stay to assist if there is a problem.  It doesn't take long for a ewe to die and far less time to lose a lamb.

We would normally check our ewes every two hours during the day, with more frequent checks first thing, and about midnight then 5am.

Hebs are easy to catch for about the first 15-20 mins of life then they are off - you get good at rugby tackles, while avoiding squashing them  ::)

Our Hebs lamb in the fields, but have access to field shelters, which are made of four corner posts, wooden siding on 3 sides and a tin roof, well attached.  We put straw in these and top it up if a ewe has lambed inside.  Some will lamb in the shelters, some out in the wind, but the lambs are usually ok as they have very thick birth fleeces.  Having said that we did lose a lamb in a severe storm last spring.

Particularly if you work, it is worth trying to group your lambings, so you can arrange two weeks annual leave each to cover it.  We put our tups in with their ewes for just 4 weeks - last year all the lambs were born in the middle two possible weeks, but that cannot be predicted. 

Hebs apparently don't take too badly to lambing indoors, but there are dangers of pneumonia, post-partum infections, mis-mothering and stolen lambs.  We always have an emergency pen set up inside (in our veggie polytunnel), ready in case of emergency with straw, water and a closed bucket of food- it can be a disaster if you are on your own in a blizzard, trying to persuade a ewe to follow the two slippery lambs you are hanging on to, then finding you have no pen when you get there.  Most years we don't need the pen, but we always set it up.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2012, 11:26:47 pm by Fleecewife »
Do something today that your future self will thank you for - plant a tree

 Love your soil - it's the the lifeblood of your land.


  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
    • Trelay Cohousing Community
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #9 on: January 17, 2012, 10:35:27 pm »
When I was in Exmoor I used to 'farm-sit' for some friends with a small farm / large smallholding.  I loved it!

One March they were away for a long weekend and I was booked as usual.

I used to work part-time, nearby, in a farmers' co-operative.  (Hi Ali  :wave: if you ever see this.)

As they left they said, unexpectedly to me, "They shouldn't start lambing until we get back - but you'll be okay, won't you?"  I'd had no idea the sheep were so close to lambing, and at that time, nothing like enough experience to be left in charge.

Someone's Law, they of course waited until I was at work to start...  Even with only working part-time, very nearby, and an understanding boss, I couldn't be there enough. 

I did what I could but looking back was woeful in my ignorance.  Almost all the nine lambs born before my friends returned did not make it to a month old. 

Amazingly, I forgave them for treating their stock and me in so cavalier a fashion.  And they forgave me for not having known enough, or been able to be there enough, to save the lambs born while I was in charge.

I have never forgotten the horror and distress I felt when it became clear that this at that time very inexperienced person would be in charge as the ewes began to lamb.  Nor the sorrow and guilt when I found out how few of the lambs had survived.

So please understand where I am coming from if I am less than my usual tactful self when it comes to people lambing for the first time and not being able to be there when their girls are lambing.
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cows (rearing their own calves for beef), pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

Small Farmer

  • Joined Jan 2012
  • Bedfordshire
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #10 on: January 17, 2012, 11:36:55 pm »
I don't know anything about Hebridean sheep but we stay close during lambing.  Even if nothing goes wrong I like to dip with iodine and check them over.  This years innovation is a lamb cam so I can keep an eye from my fireside or bed!
Being certain just means you haven't got all the facts


  • Joined Aug 2012
  • Cumbria/N Yorks border
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2012, 06:43:06 am »
Be interested to hear how you get on with the lamb cam.  I've always assumed my awkward crowd would manage to get in the corner, rear end facing away, and I'd have to go out and investigate anyway  :D When do you start lambing?


  • Joined Apr 2011
  • lymington hampshire
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #12 on: January 18, 2012, 08:57:19 am »
We've lambed successfully outdoors through December/January with our Hamps for quite a few years. This year was the first time we splashed out on a polytunnel and it has been a great success.
In the past we always made up pens with hurdles and a blue sheet over the top. We lambed the ewes outside then brought them into the pens to mother up and kept an eye on them to check lambs sucking etc
They always seemed toasty warm in their pens but if we were concerned we stuck a lamb mack on them. We turned out after a few days.


  • Joined Dec 2010
  • Fife
  • .
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #13 on: January 18, 2012, 09:41:20 am »
JMB, I'm in an identical situation. 10 Hebs, first lambing. So I'm reading up on all of this with great interest, thanks everyone!


  • Joined Apr 2011
  • lymington hampshire
Re: Sheep housing
« Reply #14 on: January 18, 2012, 01:59:03 pm »
one of our past pens


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