March 28, 2010

Sheep yards: Design and Construction details

By Dr Clive Dalton

Set of sheep yards to handle 1500 sheep built at the Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station by Farm Manager Joe McLean in 1980s.
They were based on the MAF Bulletin 353

Sheep are smart animals

If you try to keep sheep and you don't have decent handling facilities (pens or yards), then you will soon start to hate them and declare that they are stupid animals. Nothing could be further from the truth - as it's YOU that has the problem and not the sheep.

Sheep in modern times
In today's world, most countries where sheep contribute to the national economy are finding that 'labour' is a major problem. Young folk don't want to work with livestock on farms, and the existing population of sheep farmers is rapidly aging and are not capable of the physical work traditionally associated with sheep - most of it involving bending over animals or lifting and dragging them.

Sheep farmers are notorious for back and knee injuries from sheep handling and shearing, and this is a major cost to the nation.

Sheep instincts
Sheep have two major instincts which if exploited when designing handling facilities will make life so much easier. These are:
  1. Sheep are a 'flocking' species. At any sign of panic they flock together for safety rather than run away in all directions for self preservation.
  2. They are also a 'follower' species. A sheep loves to follow another sheep, and lambs from the day they are born follow their mothers and stay with them, unlike goat kids, calves and fawns where their mothers hide them in a creche. They are a 'lying out' species.
Things to avoid
So the two above features of sheep behaviour are the core of good sheep yard design, to avoid the physical effort of pushing, catching, holding and turning sheep over as this is where human backs are damaged.

Large and small flocks
The size of flock doesn't have much influence on basic sheep behaviour. Obviously as flocks get large, it's harder for an individual animal to know where it is in a mob if the scale of the facilities are not increased to cope.

Information sources
The biggest demand of late in New Zealand has come from small 'lifestyle' farmers who need some handling yards for a few sheep.

New Zealand Reference book
The classic NZ publication is called 'Design and Construction of Sheep-drafting Yards' published by the NZ Ministry of Agriculture as Bulletin 353 in 1951, and revised in 1956 and 1962. The author was J.E. Duncan, Chief Advisory Officer (Wool), Department of Agriculture, Wellington.

The price was one shilling and six pence!

I have created a free PDF version of this treasured archive of sheep farming information which you can download by clicking on this link to online publisher Scribd and following the instructions:

Design and Construction of Sheep Drafting Yards

Here's what J.E. Duncan wrote in his 1951 introduction:

'Over a period of years the volume of inquiries for plans and specifications of sheepyards and their accessories has shown that there is always a demand for this information. Some inquiries are from young men just starting on their own and others are from established farmers adding to or rebuilding their existing yards, but whatever the reason the demand seems to be increasing. This bulletin aims to supply basic information covering most of the questions usually raised'.

A marvellous book that has served generations of farmers, and is still serving farmers from all around the world in the 21st century.


  1. Thank you for all information Sir ! Thank you!

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