Raising sheep, goats in obsolete poultry houses (Shepherd’s Notebook)
(Editor’s note: Susan Schoenian is a sheep and goat specialist with the University of Maryland.)
Delmarva has many obsolete poultry houses.
While these houses can no longer be used for contract poultry production, they have many other potential uses, including raising sheep/goats.
Years ago, Rocco Turkey Co. used old poultry houses to feed out lambs.
It’s not uncommon to repurpose other farm buildings for sheep/goat production.
Poultry houses have numerous advantages over other structures and they provide a lot of square footage.
A 40-by-500-foot poultry house has enough space to house 1,000 ewes and lambs (20,000 square feet).
Poultry houses are big enough that you can use one part of the house for lambing/kidding and another part for growing out lambs/kids.
You have plenty of room to set up permanent jugs for lambing/kidding.
Ample feed storage will allow you to buy feed in bulk and/or in advance of when you need to feed it.
Poultry houses have an open floor plan, making it easy to set up pens the way you want.
A good configuration is pens on either side of the house, with an aisle down the middle.
The aisle should be wide enough to accommodate a truck, tractor, or feed cart.
The more pens you make the more flexibility you have in managing animals. An easy way to move animals to different areas of the house is important.
Poultry houses have water and feed lines, but they won’t work for small ruminants.
I’d favor fence line feeding, on either side of the aisle and/or between pens.
Self-feeders are an option for feeding lambs/kids, but you’ll need an auger system to fill the feeders.
Animals tend to arrange themselves better around circular self-feeders than rectangular ones.
Poultry houses already have electricity, light, and ventilation.
All are necessities for sheep/goat production.
The importance of proper ventilation cannot be overstated.
The mechanical ventilation systems in poultry houses can be used to manage ventilation for sheep/goats.
Sheep/goats don’t require warm housing, but they need protection from moisture and drafts, especially during birthing.
The whole sheep/goat production system can take place in the chicken house or it can be combined with outside lots and/or pasture.
Dry ewes/does can be pastured.
They can be moved into the chicken house for late gestation and lactation.
Lambs/kids never have to leave the chicken house.
They can be sold at weaning or fed out to heavier weights inside the house.
It’s probably a good idea to keep rams/bucks outside, so they don’t get too fat and lazy.
Plus, distance from the females will enable the ram/buck effect to work.
Raising sheep/goats in complete confinement has many advantages.
Confinement eliminates two of the biggest production obstacles: Predators and worm parasites.
Welfare is often superior in deep-bedded pens and environmentally-controlled buildings.
In confinement, you can more easily control the variables of production. While feed and bedding costs are substantially higher, so is productivity (usually).
If you have an old poultry house or access to one (or two), give sheep/goat production some consideration.
The United States produces less than half of the sheep and goat meat it consumes.
While commodity lamb/goat producers face stiff competition from imports, the non-traditional markets (ethnic and direct-to-consumer) usually favor local and domestically-produced lamb and goat.
A poultry house would work equally well for sheep/goat dairying.