Tuesday 19 January 2016

Stressed out or chilled out sheep?

On a wild, wet and windy day I look at the ewes in the sheep house and think,"they are just so much drier, cleaner, warmer and well fed in here". But just how comfortable are they?

50 cm trough space each
Ventilation is good, they have adequate fresh air, a dry bed, continuous access to haylage, half a meter of trough space each and a water trough so they should never be hungry or thirsty. During the day some are eating, some are dozing and some just standing and thinking. But conditions are different they don't have much personal space, something between 1.5 and 2.0 square metres the area recommended in the welfare code.

Out in the hay park they have over 400 square metres each, loads of personal space.  I have spent some time quietly watching . Being
Two gallons of water per day
closer together they do seem to have more aggressive interactions and those lower down the social hierarchy, the gimmers, are nervous. The older, bigger and heavier the ewe the higher she is in the social ranking. Gimmers are  smaller and less than two years old so at the bottom of the heap.

With only half a percent of the living space they are used to outside  and disruption of their daily routines of grazing, sleeping and dozing. Perhaps like people in overcrowded prisons this leads to stress induced aggression, withdrawal and depression. There has to be a PhD thesis in this for
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some budding animal scientist.

This is their third winter indoors and they have become much more habituated to people and machinery. I can walk up to the ewes and put my hand on them so they are not scared or anxious so that's one source of stress removed.

Gillespie's tele-handler has made life a lot easier, don't need to move the barriers now it just picks up a bale, hoists it over the feed barrier and drops it precisely where it's needed. More  help for the aged!

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