Monday, February 8, 2010

A Tour of the Sheep Barn

Our sheep barn is a 1970s vintage steel pole barn. Very long. For most of its life, it housed chickens. Now it provides winter shelter for sheep and storage for some of our hay. As you walk in the barn, 2/3 of it is pens of sheep--along the left side, all the way to the back. On the right 1/3, we store hay.

We stack the hay on reclaimed wood skids, to keep it off the cement floor. Contact with cement floors rots hay. We stack it floor to ceiling, from the back of the barn to the front. The cats think we do it for them--to provide a nice cozy sleeping place and a perch from which to survey their world. We just let them think that.

Here's a shot looking toward the front of the barn. Don't you just love how the eyes of the sheep glow when we take night photos of them? I think it's because they have different, better-night-vision eyes than we do.

The sheep come inside with the first major snow. The Farmer then starts feeding hay, whittling little notches in the long row of hay. The plan is to have enough of the hay fed by the time the lambs start coming so that we can set up lambing "jugs" where the hay used to be, along the left wall.

The jugs (and no, I don't have any idea why they're called jugs) are constructed of wood panels that are connected by dropping a steel rod through screw eyes on each end of the panels. This allows flexibility in size and shape when we're setting them up, and also allows us to dismantle them and stack the panels off to the side when they're not being used. Here is a new mom with her lamb in a jug--you can see there is quite a bit of hay left to be fed right behind this jug.

The sheep actually give birth in the large, common pen (like that in the photo of the glowing eyes). When The Farmer finds new lambs, he carries them out of the common pen, with the mother bleating softly and following closely behind. "Where are you going with my baby?"

He then puts them in a jug by themselves for a couple of days--more if they need watching closely. This helps them to bond without interruption from other sheep. It helps them to figure out feeding. It keeps the lambs safe from being stepped on by others while it sleeps. It allows The Farmer room and time to tag the ears, dock the tails and castrate the males.

After the bonding time is done, they will be moved into a grouping pen. This is a slightly larger jug with 2-5 moms and their babies grouped together. This allows the sheep a few days to sort out which babies belong to which mothers on a small scale, before they go back into a much larger common pen.

We have skipped this step in the past, and occasionally, a ewe will "lose" her 2nd or 3rd lamb--forget about it, or not be able to find it. That doesn't usually end well, so if we have the time and space we like to do this intermediate step.


  1. Lona,
    I can't tell you how often I've tried to leave a comment, only to have it get erased and the blank form come up again. Someone suggested trying a different browser and now it works!
    Just wanted you to know how much I enjoy learning about sheep farming from you. Wish I could come to a shearing!

  2. Oh my, Gina! Sorry to have been the source of such trouble. I'm glad you figured out a way around the problem, as I don't have a clue what's causing it. I've heard from another friend who is having trouble, too.

  3. thank you for sharing the photos of your sheep barn, I am learning so much from your blog!

  4. I'm so jealous of your setup! Very nice! I didn't know Polypay sheep were any color but white. They are very attractive sheep. My kids are homeschool graduates and I gravitate toward any blog or website that combines homesteading/farming and homeschooling. Happy Spring. With this beautiful, sunny weather it feels more like April.


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