Sheep Diary: Reducing the daily labour requirement of the flock


My aim is to be able to have the whole flock, at this time of year, fed and watered in around 20 minutes every morning, writes Matthew Kehoe.

Sheep Diary: Reducing the daily labour requirement of the flock

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  • 1 mth ago

My aim is to be able to have the whole flock, at this time of year, fed and watered in around 20 minutes every morning, writes Matthew Kehoe.

Since housing the ewe lambs last week, there has been a noticeable increase in daily labour. As the whole flock is now housed, we needed to look again at reducing their daily labour requirement.

We’ve achieved this by reducing the number of pens of animals in the shed. The female flock are now simply divided into two large groups on the basis of daily feed requirements.

Two large groups

Lactating ewes are on the right of the central passageway as they still require concentrate feeding twice per day but this will soon be reduced to only once per day.

To the left of the passageway, is a mixed group of replacement ewe lambs, dry ewes and pygmy goats who don’t require concentrate supplementation at this stage of the year.

The central passageway in the shed is made up of a number of galvanised 2.5-foot-wide walk-through troughs bolted together to split the shed down the middle. This allows concentrates to be fed without ever needing to get in with the ewes.

Having the ewes fed in one row also allows ewe condition and udder health to be assessed while they feed.

Round cradle bale feeder

The two pens of female sheep are currently being fed haylage out of either side of a round cradle bale feeder. The cradle prevents lambs from playing in the feeder and soiling the haylage; this system means that haylage can be fed simply by dropping in a bale with the tractor.

One disadvantage of this system is that the feeder can never be left empty if feeding more than a handful of ewes. The cradle feeder only has enough headspace for a few ewes at a time, should the feeder run empty there will be a rush of ewes to the feeder when it is replenished.

This will result in the lower-hierarchy animals being pushed off for a few hours and is especially a problem when they are lactating.

Removing time and labour

At present, the two pens of rams and bucks must have haylage forked into their hay racks by hand every morning. This is a daily job that could easily be reduced to once or twice per week with the construction of a larger hay rack or the purchase of a feeder that could hold a whole bale, thereby eliminating the need to manually feed this group of animals.

At a minimum, all pens must have an automatic water trough plumbed in. This completely removes any time and labour involved in carrying buckets of water around to small pens.

These only require glancing over every morning to inspect for leaks, blockages or soiling. Soiling can be prevented by installing the trough above ewe shoulder height and placing a few concrete blocks on the ground as a step to allow access.

My aim is to be able to have the whole flock, at this time of year, fed and watered in around 20 minutes every morning. By putting a focus on reducing the daily labour requirement of the flock, more time is left for simply observing them, which in my opinion is the most important aspect of stockmanship.

Tune in next week for more from Matthew – a pedigree Jacob sheep breeder.

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