Lambing is under way in many pedigree and early lambing flocks, while most flocks are entering the final stretch of gestation, with lambing due to kick off from the start to the middle of March.

The environment in which sheep are housed will have a significant influence on their performance, with factors such as lying space, feeding space, ventilation and lambing facilities just a few of the things that need to be accounted for.

The recommended floor space for housed in-lamb ewes will depend on the size and floor type. Table 1 details the guidelines for in-lamb unshorn ewes.

Ewes that are shorn will typically require up to 20% less floor area.

The greatest pressure on facilities is when ewes and lambs are prevented from being turned outdoors, with the recommended lying space for a ewe and one lamb increasing by 30%, while the guideline lying space increases by 60% for a ewe and two lambs.

Feeding space

Lying space and feeding space can be calculated individually, but there must be cohesion between the two, as a deficit in one will limit the number of ewes that can be housed. Table 2 details the recommended feeding space, with meal feeding dictating ewe numbers that can be accommodated in a pen.

Allowance should be taken of the weight and size of ewes increasing in late pregnancy. Where the meal feeding space is limiting numbers going on lying space, the installation of walk-through troughs or use of mobile troughs that can be lifted in and out of pens will help to increase capacity.

A white board fixed to a pen can be used to leave useful notes.

Starting afresh

The earlier housing date on many farms has seen higher volumes of farmyard manure (FYM) accumulate under ewes. Many farmers are often slow to clean out sheds during the winter housing period, as they do not have bespoke storage areas for dung. It is worth noting that from 31 January, FYM can be stored in fields.

The advice is to store it in a compact heap and to adhere to any relevant buffer zones.

Following the removal of dung, the area should ideally be powerhosed and disinfected, but this is not always practical given time constraints and pressure to get ewes back into housing. At a minimum, applying disinfectant and/or lime can help to reduce the risk of disease.

Lambing essentials

An essential facility, particularly with prolific flocks that require quite a bit of intervention and feeding of lambs after birth, is to have facilities close to hand where feed can be prepared, equipment washed and sterilised, etc. COVID-19 has brought this into the spotlight for farmers who avail of lambing assistance from relief workers or student help.

This is particularly challenging where there are no facilities available in the lambing shed or yard and there is a reliance on using shared facilities in a garage, utility room, etc.

As such, some farmers in this position are installing simple facilities in the corner of a lambing shed or wherever space allows. These facilities will deliver in the short- and long-term. Farmers we have spoken to in recent years with such facilities installed all say it has been worthwhile.

The photo gives a good example of a relatively simple system that does not take up a massive amount of space and has a relatively low cost.

A stainless steel sink and draining area will cost anywhere from €100 to €180 new, while a stand-alone stainless steel unit can typically cost in the region of €400 to €500 for a medium-sized unit.

Some farmers have had success purchasing secondhand units used in catering that will do the job perfectly. A stainless steel unit has an advantage over a unit constructed with timber, with a longer lifetime and easier cleaning and disinfecting.

The other useful piece of equipment is hot water heating facilities. This can range from a standard under-sink electrical- or gas-operated unit that heats water instantly, to large units that store a significant volume of heated water. The latter units are commonplace on dairy farms and farms rearing calves, where high quantities of water are used.

The benefit of these is that they can be used to heat water at night and avail of the nighttime electricity tariffs. Costs for under-sink units start in the region of €100 and can increase to €300 to €400 for more energy-efficient units, while large-scale units can cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands, but are typically not required in a sheep system.

Of course, even having a kettle and a safety plug for boiling water can provide a temporary solution where the unit will not be used very often. A simple wall-mounted unit or lockable facility, such as the JFC animal health and chemical storage containers, is useful, with costs starting in the region of €200 upwards. A fridge is a useful addition for farms using high volumes of colostrum and requiring storage space.

This sheep shed is well set up to cope with lambing with everything required all under the one roof. A water heating unit provides hot water for washing, making artificial colostrum, bottles etc. It also has a fride for storing colostrum and vaccines.

White boards

Another useful piece of equipment for farms availing of help and wishing to cut down on contact time is white boards. These can take the form of a small white board fixed to individual lambing pens or larger boards in a fixed location. Even where help is not coming on to the farm, these can be an excellent aid to quickly record information at a point in time and allowing for a permanent record to be collected at a later stage.