I often get questions about my barn and lambing pens setup. I remember when I started with sheep several years ago, I had lots of questions too! This post should help explain.
The barn was built in November 2019 and is 32 feet long and 24 feet wide. I added a 16-foot open lean-to attached to one long side in October 2021, under which I installed our chute and tilt table. The front sliding door is 8′ wide, and the back sliding door is 4′ wide. There is a man door on one long side between the barn wall and lean-to. The floor is about 3 inches of lime sand, which is an excellent material for a sheep barn. It drains well while creating a semi-solid surface that is good for their feet. Cleanup is a breeze using a rake to pull soiled bedding to a pile, then scoop it into the wheelbarrow or tractor front loader to take to the compost heap.
I sectioned off one 8×32 side of the interior using livestock panels, a 3′ walk-thru gate, and a homemade 8′ hay feeder. This area is great for storing square bales of hay and straw, various feeds, and a cabinet for medications, supplements, and tools.
In previous years, I fed hay inside the barn using the 8′ hay feeder and by placing a round bale in one corner of the barn. I have since discontinued this practice because the ewes spent a lot of time inside the barn. This created bigger manure piles and more cleanup work for me! Instead, I purchased a used collapsible bale feeder. I installed it on the fenceline shared between the ewes’ barn lot and the ram’s winter lot. The ewes have access to three sides of the bale feeder while the rams have the other.
The Lambing Pens
On the opposite side of the barn, I have seven lambing pens, sometimes called jugs. I set them up well before lambing begins so they are ready to use and stay clean. Five of the jugs are 4′ x 4′, which is a good size for my average St. Croix ewe and her single or twin lambs. Two of the jugs are 4′ x 6′. I use these for my larger Katahdin and crossbred ewes, those with triplets, or any that need penned for longer than 48 hours.
The pens are constructed from cut pieces of sheep panels, which have 4″ x 4″ openings rather than the larger openings on standard livestock panels. I cut each 16′ x 4′ panel into 3′ lengths. Using screw eyes and wire or twine, I attach the side panels to the wallboards of the barn. I create gate hinges using these wire panel connector hinges and use spring snap carabiners to lock the gates closed.
Each pen has a flat-backed water bucket, a feed tray, and a hay-bag. I prefer straw over other bedding materials. It is easy to clean out and keeps the lambs warmer than shavings or crushed cob. The pens aren’t fancy, but they do get the job done!
How I Use the Barn and Pens
My sheep have access to the barn and lean-to during the winter months and lambing season, and can enter and leave as they wish. They rarely have access to the barn outside of winter months, except when I’m sorting, weaning, or performing other flock work. During lambing seasons, I do not keep the expecting ewes or new families locked in the barn. The ewes lamb on pasture with only a few that choose to enter the barn to do so. Outside of lambing season, I store the panels by hanging them on hooks in the barn.
How I Move the New Family into the Lambing Pens
Some may wonder how to get the ewe and newborn lambs into a pen if they lamb outside. After the ewe cleans and nurses the newborn lambs, I bring them into a lambing jug. I wait for her to clean and nurse to reduce the chances of interrupting the bonding process and to keep most of the birthing mess outside the barn. Most ewes are easy to bring in by picking up the lambs, carrying them low at my sides, and walking slowly to the pen. The ewe follows her lambs in most cases. Sometimes, nervous ewes take a bit more finesse, but the process is much the same. If the ewe gets confused and wanders away, I just set the lambs down for a moment. They cry out, and the ewe comes running back to sniff them. I then resume the trip to the barn.
How Long do They Stay in the Pens?
Most new families stay in the pen for 24 hours or less, but at least overnight. The morning/day after the birth, I weigh, tag, and record the new lambs. This part of the process is vital to measuring performance and managing registration records. Time spent in the pen also gives me the opportunity to observe them to make sure the ewe is mothering well and producing enough milk.
I often keep triplets in the pen an extra day because in many cases, one of the lambs is smaller than the other two. That smaller lamb often needs an extra day to build up strength to keep up with its larger siblings. That extra day also helps me determine if the ewe can produce enough milk for all three lambs. If in doubt, I keep them in for a few more days to supplement with bottle feeding and then decide whether or not to pull one of the lambs.
Does Everyone Need a Barn and Lambing Pens?
Not everyone uses a barn or lambing pens. Some have such small flocks (as I once did) that it’s easy to keep up with who is who. Some have extra help or are quick to catch newborn lambs and perform all their tagging and record keeping on the pasture. Others don’t do any record keeping because pedigrees are unimportant in their model, or they don’t tag until the lambs are older. My management methods won’t work for everybody, but they work for me!