Setting up Containment

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Stock Journal Feature - February 2024

Author: Deb Scammell, Talking Livestock

Considering setting up containment? One of the most important things to consider is the location. Being close to a shearing shed, yards and other handling facilities will be invaluable to allow monitoring of livestock and handling throughout the containment period. If this isn’t possible, setting up near a laneway, to allow stock to be moved easily back to these areas is still useful. Being located close to sheds and silos where feed is stored can also save a lot of time moving feed around. Containment yards may have additional uses such as when stock need to be held such as shearing or as quarantine pens when new sheep come onto the property, so consider their location. 

It is crucial to decide on the method of feeding stock in containment prior to working out the pen design. For example, if ewes are going to be fed in one hit (daily or every second day) in a trough in a fence line, you will need 30 – 40cm of single sided trough space for each large ewe. This will mean pens will need to be rectangle shaped to allow sufficient head space per ewe to all line up as they are fed. If you are feeding in troughs but using a total mixed ration (TMR), which is available at all times, you can reduce the trough space down to around 14cm / ewe. If troughs are located inside the pens or self-feeders are being used the pens can be a different shape as you won’t need the fence line to feed along. Some people use a central communal pen with troughs set up to feed into, which can reduce set up costs. This would mean your design would need to incorporate ideally a number of pens opening onto a central feeding pen. 

Pen size and density is important for animal health considerations. Ideally it is best to allow 7 – 10m2 per ewe in a pen – especially if they are being held in containment towards the end of gestation. Having a relatively high stocking density can help to reduce dust within the confinement area as more urine and manure is deposited on the pen surface, meaning larger pen area’s (over 10m2/ewe) aren’t recommended. If pens are too small and density is too high, you may see an increase in animal health issues within the pen. When determining the size of the pen it’s critical to think about mob size and what number of ewes is best to set the pens up for. Depending on the number of ewes on the property that need to be contained this may change slightly, however in general mobs of 250 – 300 ewes work well. As the mob size gets larger, depending on the feeding method you may find you have more shy feeders or a larger range of condition scores within the mob, which can have an impact on your results over lambing. 

Getting the slope right across the containment area can help with drainage and water run off after a rain event. A 2 – 4% slope from the top to the bottom of the pen is ideal to allow water run off without causing soil erosion. If pens are located across the slope, it means water won’t run from one pen into another which is important to prevent animal health issues and spread of disease. Ideally water troughs will be located at the bottom of the slope – so when they are cleaned out water runs out of the pen and the feeding area would be located at the top of the slope. Planning roadways and all weather access to the containment pens is also important as ewes are often being contained over the break of the season. 

Shade and shelter also need to be considered to avoid heat and cold stress. Especially when joining in containment and through pregnancy, heat stress can have an impact on the joining result and foetal size and survivability after birth. In some regions cold stress and wind can also have an impact in the containment area. Planting of shrubs or straw bales around pens can assist to provide shelter and prevent wind chill through pens. Shade can be permanent or semi-permanent and can be set up relatively cheaply if required, it can be manufactured using galvanised iron, heavy duty shade cloth or using more substantial shade cloth structures. Ideally you would provide 0.4m2 of shade per ewe and locate the shade away from the feed and water. 

Investing time to plan the location, size, shape and set up of your containment pen will ensure it is a valuable area for you to utilise for many years to come.