Sheep Handling Facilities
by Richard Cobb
Within the past ten years a great interest in sheep
handling facilities has developed in this country. I feel
that this is due to the realization that as we increase the
numbers and/or the size of the sheep we work with, it
becomes increasingly important that we do so in as efficient
a manner as possible and with a minimum of physical labor.
We all can appreciate the physically demanding and
exhausting work involved with sorting, weighing, worming,
pregnancy checking, etc., a number of sheep. A good working
or handling facility whether permanent or temporary, or
portable can reduce the physical demands of these jobs to a
very manageable level.
Handling facilities have been in existence for centuries
in countries with sheep populations and have been
sophisticated to a remarkable degree. We, however, are more
concerned with the "basic" requirements for a successful
facility or yard and will concern ourselves in this
In simple terms, a yard is needed where sheep can be
stored for short periods and then moved easily and quickly
to a work area where they can be separated into different
groups and handled individually. Based on this idea, it is
probable that no one design is best for all farms. This is
because the yards must be fitted to the operator, his sheep
and the operations performed on the sheep, and area
available for the yards to be constructed.
The sheep yard is divided into the following parts:
- Storage area. The size will be determined by the
number of sheep that are normally handled as a
group. For instance, a 300-ewe flock would
require a larger storage area than a ewe flock
having just 100 ewes.
- Drafting chute or race. The sheep move from the
storage area single file into the drafting
chute. This allows the operator to identify the
sheep and separate whichever sheep he wants. An
excellent example of the use of this chute is to
sort ewes into breeding groups. The ewes come
into the chute, single file, are identified by
ear tag number or paint brand, and then sorted
by use of a drafting gate at the end of the
chute into tow or three different groups. This
can be done by one person, if necessary.
Sheep yards should be designed with the sheep in mind.
Success or failure in getting sheep to flow through the pens
with minimum effort for both sheep and shepherd is related
to basic principles which should be remembered.
- Sheep will follow one another.
- Sheep prefer to move uphill or up a slight incline
- Sheep flow better around slight corners or curves.
- Sheep will move away from things that frighten them.
- Sheep will move toward another sheep or friend.
- Sheep do not like to walk into the sun.
Sheep do all of these things by instinct and therefore
these principles should be fully exploited in the design of
sheep handling facilities. Other factors to be considered in
the selection of a site for a working facility are:
- It should be centrally located to the sheep
- It should be free draining.
- It should be shaded.
- The chute should run north and south (not east and
west) to avoid sheep moving into the sun.
- It should be convenient for loading and access.
Factors to observe in the facility layouts and
- Pens should be no larger than necessary.
- Obstructions and sharp edges should be avoided.
- Rails or sheeting should be on the inside.
- All surfaces should be smooth and timber splinter
- Gates and catches should be easily operated.
- The basic layout should be as simple as
The sorting race is of utmost importance and should
conform to the following specifications:
- Narrow enough to present sheep singly. (Ideal width
from 14 inches for small breeds up to 20 inches for
- Long enough and permitting an unobstructed view to
identify sheep well in advance. (Fifteen to twenty
feet is a good length.)
- Sides should be smooth and free of projections.
- Sorting gates must present a clear view ahead to the
- Both entry and exit must conform to the principles
of sheep psychology.
- Position of operator must not deter sheep.
- Height of the chute should not interfere with
working. (A good height is 36 inches.)
Sheep working facilities add a new dimension to sheep
production. Used correctly, they can add to the efficiency
of your total operation. A working chute or race can be used
to drench, pregnancy test, and sort or allot ewes into
breeding bands. A working chute brings the sheep to you, one
at a time, single file, so that you can check their teeth,
udders, etc. If necessary, you can trim or shear around
their eyes, check ear tags and/or replace ear tags. You can
also paint brand, trim feet, and at the end of the day still
have enough energy left over to enjoy yourself that
Two excellent publications to consult for more
information on sheep handling facilities are:
Sheep Handbook, Housing and Equipment —
published by Midwest Plan Service, Iowa State
University, Ames Iowa, 50010 and available at you state
university sheep extension office.
Farm Buildings Information Center, #16 —
a British booklet and available from U.K. Products,