Planning Your Sheep Handling Facility
Table of Contents
- Facilities Design
Well-designed sheep handling facilities are essential if a producer is
to have a successful sheep production operation. The sheep producer will
find few other investments that can match handling facilities with respect
to labour efficiencies and savings. Most producers will only build, or
purchase, one handling facility in their lifetime, so planning is essential.
Incorporate existing paddocks, laneways and barnyards into the handling
system to allow for ample space when the flock is held in the yards for
extended periods of time. Sheep need to move smoothly between these areas
with a minimum of fuss. To achieve this, a producer needs to understand
how good design encourages the sheep and lambs to move ahead through the
system without balking, thereby keeping problems for workers to a minimum.
Well-designed facilities are easy to operate, saving stress, labour and
their associated costs.
Sheep handling in "make-do" pens is not only hard, difficult
work, it is outright unpleasant, and results in important jobs like vaccinating
and deworming being delayed or not getting done at all.
To ensure that the handling facility will accommodate all the required
jobs, make a complete list of the operations that will be carried out,
and plan how these jobs will be done.
A useful checklist includes: shearing, crutching, sorting, deworming,
vaccination, body condition scoring, pregnancy scanning, foot trimming,
foot bathing, weighing, loading and sale of sheep.
Factors to be taken into consideration include:
- best location for the facilities
- size of groups the facility will need to handle
- amount of labour available for working the sheep in the facility
- modification of existing facilities, building new facilities, or purchasing
- cost involved.
In simple terms, handling facilities comprise the following: low density
holding areas, high density holding areas, forcing (or crowding) area,
drafting (sorting) race, and handling (working) race.
Most producers can use nearby pastures and laneways as their low
density holding areas. These areas need to be secure enough to prevent
escapes (particularly lambs) from one area to the next. Consider using
net wire fencing with openings no larger than 15 cm by 15 cm, secured
to closely spaced posts.
High-density holding areas need to be built with medium to strong fencing
materials. Densities of 2 sheep in full fleece per square metre allows
enough room to drive the group into the yards, while leaving space for
gates to swing, and dogs to work where they are used. It is particularly
important that these areas are long and narrow so that groups are easily
controlled while being driven up into the forcing (crowding) race. Recommendations
in Australia and New Zealand are that these high-density holding areas
be no wider than 10 m. If greater capacity is needed, it is better to
lengthen them, rather than making them wider. (Conroy and Hanrahan, 1994)
A combined lead-up race and forcing pen that is 3 m wide has proven very
effective in many handling facilities, particularly for large flocks.
It allows large groups to be broken down into smaller groups for ease
of handling. The drafting and working races will lead off from this area.
Triangular force pens (sometimes referred to as 'V' force pens) are usually
used in rectangular facilities and can be built in single or double forms
(see Figure 1). Note that the single force pen has
1 fence as an extension of the race side, with the 2nd fence set at a
30-40° angle. The double-triangular force has 2-wing fences running
back at similar angles and a central fence with a flip-flop gate at the
race entrance to allow sheep entry from either side.
Curved force pens (bugle) were thought to take advantage of sheep's inclination
to follow flock mates that "disappear" around a curve, and enable
one person to efficiently process the sheep alone. However, more recent
research has shown that in 1.5 m wide races, sheep move better through
straight races than through curved races. Only when they move in single
file do races with corners prove superior to straight races. (K. Ransom
& P. Hanrahan, 1990)
Force pen designs that do not work efficiently, and should be avoided,
include square-shaped and the double-triangular force pen without the
central fence (see Figure 2). The major problem with
both of these designs is that sheep can easily avoid entering the race
by turning suddenly (ringing) at the race entrance. (H.M. Hamilton, 1990)
For efficient drafting (sorting), the operator needs to be able to easily
identify and draft the sheep he or she wishes to separate with a minimum
of errors. To do this accurately requires an even flow of sheep. For small
flocks, a 2-way sort is satisfactory, but in larger scale sheep operations,
a 3-way sort, using 2 gates, may be necessary.
Make the sorting race at least 3 m long, with the exit point showing
a clear escape route for the sheep. The race walls need to be solid-sided,
to eliminate sheep being distracted by those on the opposite side, to
ensure continuous flow of sheep. If the race is also used for drenching
and vaccinations, a producer may want to consider a slightly wider race,
or one with adjustable sides.
The draft gate needs to be a minimum of 1 m long to allow sheep to exit
the race easily. Draft gates shorter than this cause sheep (particularly
heavy wooled and pregnant ewes) to jam against the edge of the race when
exiting, and slow the flow significantly. There is some debate as to whether
the draft gate should be made of "see-through" panels or solid
sheeting. Barber and Freeman (1993), in "Design of Sheep Yards",
give the following as reasons for using "see-through" gates:
- the oncoming sheep can see the previous sheep moving away from the
draft and are more inclined to follow
- see-through gates are lighter, and therefore, quicker and easier to
- see-through gates are less affected by winds blowing across the drafting
As well, they list these points as reasons for using solid draft gates:
- such gates act as a continuation of the drafting race wall, thus directing
the sheep into the exit pen;
- solid gates prevent horns or legs from getting caught.
A multipurpose handling race for drenching, vaccinating and other activities
is needed in sheep yards. Most producers in Ontario will opt for this
type of race over having both a handling race and a drafting race.
Several different types of handling races can be built:
- a single race 52-64 cm wide where the worker is outside the race
- a single race 70-80 cm where the worker is inside the race
- an adjustable-sided race in which the width can be varied between
A suitable handling race is 6-15 m long with sides 85 cm high.
Handling facilities are essential if producers expect to find any savings
in labour and efficiencies in the management of their sheep.
Figure 3 shows a basic handling facility layout for
sheep flocks with the key components identified. Table
1 provides dimensions for the various components of handling facilities.
Sheepyard and Shearing Shed Design. Fiona Conroy and Peter Hanrahan.
Yards 'n Yakka. Kondinin Group. 1990
Sheep Equipment Handbook. MidWest Planning Services. 1994
Figure 1. Examples of
successful force pen shapes.
Equivalent of Figure 1
Table 1. Yard dimensions
in centimetres (100 centimetres = 1 metre)
|600 - 1,200
||Open or closed-in sides.
|60 - 75
|45 - 80
|82 - 90
||Keep low if sheep are worked
from outside the race.
||Sheep usually jump gates rather
|300 - 350
||Closed-in (solid) sides.
|42 - 48
||Can be tapered at the bottom
or of variable width.
|85 - 100
|95 - 110
|90 - 105
|300 - 400
|200 - 300
|120 - 150
||Open sides (see-through).
Loading Ramp to Truck
|70 - 100
||Slope not steeper than 1:3.
|300 - 500
|70 - 210
Adapted from Sheepyard and Shearing Shed Design. F. Conroy & P. Hanrahan.
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