top of page

Bring in or not to bring in that is the question! | Babydoll Sheep Shelter & Barn Advice



One of the most popular questions that I get asked is… do I need to shelter or bring the Babydolls in each night? The answer is, no I don’t, but this is due to a few specific reasons, and you need to consider your own Babydoll’s and environment.


I’d say to bring the sheep in nightly you’d have one of the following 3 reasons.


Firstly, Predators.

We live in a country (UK) and area (Cumbria) that doesn’t really have any natural nocturnal predictors. Our American & Australian cousins have mountain lions, coyotes and dingos to name but a few. In the UK only weak new borns could possibly be vulnerable to foxes but I’d actually put my bet on the fox getting a very fierce send off from a Babydoll mum, stamping and charging the intruder away.


Secondly, Weather.

Like the larger Southdown's, Babydoll's are really hardy. If you have field shelters (which i strongly recommend if you don’t have good natural shelter) then the Babydoll’s will instinctively head in if they feel they need to. However, I've found that snow, rain or very cold weather is actually met with indifference, we can have heavy snowfall and you will find the flock still in the middle of the field!

The only time I’ve found the sheep are not keen and would happily hide out in the field shelter is with the combination of strong winds and rain or heavy snow so the only food is hay feeders by the shelter. The unique structure of their incredibly warm and waterproof fleece is designed for the water droplets (or snow) to fall and run off the fleece. The lanolin coating on each fibre provides the very best rain coat there is. Add strong winds though and we can get a problem, as the wind can move and part the fleece and the rain droplets can then possibly run down into the dense fleece through to the skin… and this is when they can suffer.

OK, so when do I bring them in?

If we have a severe weather warning ( yes i am a little obsessed with my weather app 🤭) with gale force winds with rain/snow forecast on it’s way then I bring the girls in because not all the girls fit inside our main field shelter. Likewise, after shearing I do give extra barn protection if storms are heading our way as the lanolin is stripped if sheared to a close shave.


If you're concerned about extreme heat, last summer we saw unusually high heat wave temperatures, I leave mother nature to do it's job - we have planted hedges and tree lines which provide fabulous shade and wind breaks - never underestimate the asset of natural boundary for shelter, the flock would chase the shadows through the day - start on the east perimeter under the ash trees, migrate to the south orchard and finally the west side dry stone walls at sunset - the fleece protects again fro over heating and the barn is the last place to be when outdoors has maximum breeze.

Lastly, your personal lifestyle.

I know some owners who have just a mini flock and like to bring their Babydolls in because that’s what they like to do with their pets! Babydolls (like dogs) love routine. If you create a pattern of behaviour eg. 5pm you rattle a bucket with a FEW treats and lead them to a shelter with a few treats in, you will find night 2 or 3 they will RUN into the shelter or barn eager for the treats! * Beware Babydolls get fat so easily and this will lead to lots of health issues - treats can train and establish routines but do not feed regularly it's really not good for them, it will take months, sometimes years for a Babydoll to lose weight gain! So, for me with 30 sheep it’s a lot of unnecessary fuss of A LOT of cleaning & compost created to keep the barn used nightly and my view, out in the fresh air in the open field with space to exercise is the healthiest place for them all to be.

So if you're bringing the Babydolls in, here are my Top 8 Barn “Rules”


1.) DO NOT BRING IN WET SHEEP.

If you touch their fleece and it’s wet leave in the field - my field shelter has a gate on it which is very usual. Why leave them out… the wet fleece water evaporates in a warm environment (sheep generate the heat in an enclosed space) it then can become a haven for germs and pneumonia is a really common and fatal danger. I have broken this rule once in all the years - a severe storm was coming we had suffered gales force winds for days and then the threat of very heavy rain for 3 days prompted me to put on a head torch and bring the girls in despite being damp and in the dark. I didn’t sleep a wink and watched them like a hawk for 2 days but luckily thanks to our very good ventilation we escaped any illness.

2.) VENTILATION, VENTILATION, VENTILATION.

The danger is to humanise the sheep. They need to be warm - nope they really don’t, in fact it can kill them. Their fleece is all they need to create the perfect temperature. A warm barn is a lethal breeding ground for disease. You need LOTS of ventilation - the roof as high as possible in a barn or shelter. We have South to south-westerly bad weather - it is good to know your own weather system as we have open windows on the side of barn that is sheltered and the huge double doors always open. The only time you really need to be concerned about draughts is at lambing time.

So never heat your barn, nice a chilly is good (yes even breaking ice on the water feeders is fine!) Always give as much ventilation you can and if building a shelter or barn first work out where your bad weather comes from so you dont position it onto the front so it doesn’t blow in.


3.) DAMP BEDDING = DANGER

Keeping the bedding clean is the number one priority once the sheep are inside. What is the danger is wet bedding. Now type of bedding is a personal and regional choice. But the one thing i can recommend LIME powder. Super absorbent and anti-bacterial you need a mask and rubber gloves and i wear rubber bib trousers and coat as it dries everything out and goes everywhere. It’s not a “sprinkle’ more a light covering over ALL the floor. I then use layer of straw 20cm or so deep and i learnt the hard way that barley straw is way more absorbent than wheat. I’ve also used a layer shavings but it takes longer to compost so i prefer straw.

You can add another light layer on poop BUT as soon a it becomes wet - clean out!


4.) ROOM TO DANCE!

I always say if you joined the flock in the barn, put on your favourite track and still had room to dance - waltz, foxtrot you pick, then that’s the right ratio of sheep to space! Overcrowding leads to all of the above - lack of ventilation and breeding ground for bugs, very quickly wet bedding and ultimately poorly sheep. Shelters can be snug because the sheep are free to move in or out and open to all the elements. They will pop in and out.


5.) THE ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT-BUFFET

Hay feeders can be any style but you need to make sure that everyone can feed at the same time so no bullying takes place. We have double sided long feeders in the centre so always room for every one. In lambing small hanging feeders are in each pen.

6.) THIRSTY WORK

Water is really important, eating hay makes sheep thirsty it’s really surprising how much water they will need, and at lambing time once the ewes start preparing to produce milk they drink way more water. The height of the water for Babydoll’s is important. It needs to be low enough they can reach the bottom but not on the floor so that any lambs could jump, stumble & fall in and drown. Water needs to be checked twice a day and beware of doing a quick check thinking they still look full - that’s suspicious!!! 9/10 someone has probably pooped in it so boycotted!

Rule is if the water isn’t clean enough for you to drink don’t make the sheep drink it.

Finally, we collect all our rain water into huge water butts around the barns. This is something worth considering because not only is it free (a big saving after set up costs) but most importantly chlorine free, so much healthier for the Babydoll’s.


7.) HEALTH CHECK

It’s worth mentioning, in an open field one sheep with lice or an infected foot is an isolated case - once in the barn any problem can quickly spread. I’ll never forget last year at lambing I brought all the girls in and i was so overwhelmed & excited to get them in my new state of the art barn I overlooked basic checks - day 2 and the whole flock were crawling in lice. It was quickly dealt (but not cheap to treat all the flock) but gone in a day or so now i check everyone BEFORE going in the barn.


8.) THE BARN AT LAMBING TIME

The only other side notes for barn provision are lambing time. So the way i house the girls at lambing time again is personal choice. I would not recommend to lamb Babydolls outside in Cumbria in the UK.

The girls are all in with 3 weeks to lambing, divided into groups in communal areas. They are separated into twins and singles, batches of timing and some of the older girls have ‘buddies’ they will live happily with and others that when they become heavily pregnant they get REALLY irritated with which manifests into head butting and bullying at hay feeders when in a confined space. When my ewe starts to go into labour - (read the next blog for lambing guide) because she is really used to me and “tame” i can lead her into her “maternity pen” which is like a 5 star hotel for sheep! She has a 7ft x 8ft booth, wooden sides to stop draughts but open end for ventilation but you can simply use 4 x 6ft or more hurdles and bank up the first rung of the sides with hay for draughts. Once she starts lambing she doesn’t care she is separated from the flock… but not a good idea to separate before as this will really stress her. She needs her own hay feeder - hanging so new lambs don’t jump into the hay wee or poop on it and water bucket - we have automatic feeders off the floor at a height (3 rungs up on a gate or hurdle) that the lambs can’t fall into it and drown - or the best buckets are the ones that hang on the rungs of the gate hurdles - DON”T put a normal bucket on the floor - if a lamb can get in it - it will and can drown really easily. Ewe’s drink 2 full buckets a day when lactating & feeding, so really important to check the water at least twice a day. I have a heat lamp ready in each corner if lambs struggling and need it but if healthy mum bonds better if she is the source of heat.


So last thing is to say about field shelters...

I have a big one, for the main flock and it has a gate that can shut to lock which is sooooo handy!

I have two I made simply from free wooden pallets, 2 pallets for the back and sides with a sloping corrugated roof. They do the same job as the really posh big one we bought just smaller and great for lambs or 2-3 sheep e.g rams. All you need is to create a shelter from the wind by positioning a barrier at the right angle from your weather.





In summary a barn can be very handy at times of shearing, pedicures or times like today as I’m writing this on a plane knowing my flock are safely in the barn, I can see them all on camera and our "flock sitter" can easily care (daily fill hay feeders and water) for the pregnant girls. So barns are really useful at times in the Sheep calendar, they give feet a dry "rest" environment after very soggy run or preparing for shearing or lambing.

As always, if you have any questions get in touch I’d be happy to help if I can.

Heidi




147 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page