Sheep require year-round shelter to achieve optimal performance levels. With colder temperatures right around the corner, now is the time to evaluate your housing and shelter system to ensure a healthy and productive flock throughout the winter.
Shelter is needed for body temperature regulation – helping to keep sheep warm during cold periods and cool when temperatures heat up.
The proper housing, ventilation and bedding can help sheep maintain an ideal body temperature through all seasons. Skipper Carlisle of Hampel Animal Care says that plastic shelters are a top option for sheep producers because of the low investment, yet durable quality of the shelters.
According to research from Purdue University, the normal body temperature of a sheep hovers around 102.3 degrees F, with an ideal range between 100.9 and 103.8 degrees F. This range is known as “the thermoneutral zone” and is vital to maintain. If body temperatures rise above or below this range, a sheep’s metabolism begins to increase from trying to cool down or stay warm. In the winter, the feed provided will then go into heat production rather than building muscle and gaining weight.
The team at Calf-Tel, based in Germantown, Wis., has found that providing shelter to sheep can help them maintain this thermoneutral zone through all seasons. To keep sheep comfortable and productive, they encourage shepherds to include Calf-Tel housing systems in their pastures or facilities.
“Access to shelter allows sheep to maintain an acceptable temperature range so their bodily functions can run at an acceptable level,” says Skipper Carlisle, regional sales manager with Calf-Tel. “This is especially critical during hot or cold extremes, significant swings in temperature and moisture related events (rain and snow).”
Without shelter, a flock’s performance can be negatively affected.
“You put an animal’s health at risk if they do not have access to some sort of shelter,” explains Carlisle. “Problems such as heat stress, dehydration, infections and respiratory illnesses may occur if animals do not have shelter to protect them from the elements.”
Selecting a shelter
There are many types of shelter ranging from barns and sheds to metal, wood and plastic hutches. The type of shelter to fit your flock will vary depending on your location, climate and sheep type.
Carlisle recommends using a plastic shelter because of their durability, longevity and low maintenance. Additionally, plastic shelters are lightweight and portable, allowing for easy cleaning. Opaque hutches are beneficial because they block out the sun’s rays, keeping animals cool during the hottest times of the year.
“Plastic shelters are a great option for sheep producers,” says Carlisle. “They are a much lower investment than building a new barn yet last longer and are more durable than metal and wood shelters.”
Space and ventilation
When preparing your shelter area, make sure adequate space is provided. Ample space can help prevent injuries from happening and reduce stress levels. A general rule of thumb is to provide 10 to 12 square feet per ewe, 12 to 16 square feet for a ewe with her lambs and 6 to 8 square feet per feeder lamb.
In addition to space requirements, proper ventilation is a key factor in shelters.
“A common myth among livestock producers is that if you totally enclose animals during cold weather, they will stay warmer and healthier,” notes Carlisle. “While we do want to provide shelter to animals during extreme weather, proper air flow is key to ensuring respiratory health.”
A proper ventilation system should provide an accurate amount of fresh air without drafts, maintain a desired temperature and relative humidity level and keep ammonia levels below specified guidelines. Following these guidelines will help to avoid stale air and respiratory diseases, creating a healthy environment for you and your sheep.
Preparing for winter
Specific to the upcoming winter season, there are a few preparations to take for your flock.
Carlisle explains that throughout winter, a shelter entryway should face away from the direction where harsh weather comes from. Typically, this means shelters need to face either the east or west to provide protection from northern winds and snow storms.
Additionally, shelters need sufficient bedding. The type of bedding needed will depend on availability and your climate. In areas with cold winters, Carlisle suggests using straw bedding to keep sheep the most comfortable.
Shelters should be cleaned and bedded as needed throughout the year.
“Shelters only really need to be bedded a handful of times throughout the year,” says Carlisle. “This would include full cleaning and sanitation at least once per year and rebedding 2 to 4 times in the winter.”
Having a proper shelter system in place will help to complement your nutrition and management practices, ensuring a healthy and productive flock for years to come.
For more information on housing and shelter systems, visit www.Calf-Tel.com or contact Skipper Carlisle at 806-548-2636.