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American RBST Foundation Flock USA0001
British Registered Soay sheep

Soay Sheep

Fences, Shelters, Catch pens, Portable Pens and Feeders


Soay seem to bond with their living quarters and once bonded are content within the confines of their pasture, whether it is large or small, they don't challenge fences as goats do. In the UK Soay are often kept behind 33” (80cm) tall wire netting, but in the States we generally use  47” woven wire "field" fence. However, when frightened a Soay can easily jump over even a four foot barrier.

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  Some fencing ideas. Fences do not have to be tall to contain Soay Sheep
. 47" tall field fence with wooden poles and metal "T-posts" in Oregon   b. 33" (80 cm) tall wire fence with
wire strand on the top, wooden posts, in front of a hedgerow in Wales  
c. wooden fence with 33' (80cm) wire netting keeps
the dogs from chasing the sheep.   d.  between pastures catch pen in Wales      

Because field fence has spacing of about 5"h x 6"w it can be a problem with lambs; when they are very small some can squeeze through the holes in the wire and when they are about two months old and their horns are developing they can push their head through the fence, get caught and are unable to pull their heads back outNon climb horse wire fencing with its 2" x 4" spacing is one way around this problem, however it is three times as expensive as field fence which makes it cost prohibitive unless you are only fencing a small area.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    


   Non climb horse fence with 2" x 4" spacing

A more economical solution is the use of hot tape attached to the bottom of the field fence. While I am not a fan of hot wire with Soay sheep, I have heard too many horror stories of dead sheep in electric fences, especially electric netting, a single strand of electric tape placed about six inches above the ground has solved the problem of lamb's horns stuck in the field fences here. It seems that just one lamb needs to touch it with its nose and all the rest get the message to stay away. Keeping grass away from the tape so it doesn't short out is critical to success and in dry areas to preventing fires in the summer. Adult rams can get their horns tangled in it and so it is not recommended in ram pens. It isn't the answer for everyone but it has eliminated the problem with lambs on this farm.

47" woven wire "field" fencing with approximate 5" X 6" spacing with electric tape strand at bottom                     detail: hot tape attached to t-post

During the fall rut, when multiple rams are kept in adjoining paddocks, they will also need to be separated by some type of visual barrier. There are fewer if any skirmishes when they cannot see one another. In the past we have had great success with tarps or old sheets of plywood temporarily hung on the fence,  which while they looked a bit "tacky" served the purpose very well. Recently a friend and fellow breeder accidentally stumbled across the idea of using commercial weed barrier hung on his fence as a curtain. It held up to the weather, was lightweight and easy to hang, the sheep could not see through it and it was readily available on line and in farm stores and garden centers. Whatever material you use make certain there are no "peep holes" Soay sheep are very curious and they love peep holes.

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                             3 ' width De Witt Pro 5 Weed Barrier made a perfect curtain and was a tremendous improvement
                              over our old sheets of plywood. It can be purchased in a variety of widths and at our feed store
                              either by the running foot or in a 250' roll. Here it is used to keep the rams and weaned ram lambs
                              from pestering the ewes and their mothers on the other side of the fence.

Sheep Housing Systems: Sheds and Barns Soay

The Soay is a very adaptable animal, one of its strengths. We are often asked if it can tolerate the cold climates of the northern US or the hot climates of the south, in our experience it manages to adapt to both. But in spite of this hardiness it does need some protection from heat of summer and the wet of winter and a place where its hay can be kept dry. Rain and wind are the biggest concerns. Soay sheep have short wool with very little lanolin to protect them from the rain, if they get soaked in cold weather they are in trouble. On St. Kilda the sheep seek refuge in cleits or under rock outcroppings.

In the early days we made very good use of the ubiquitous blue tarp, it served us well for a number of years as both shelter for the animals and for our hay. If you are on a shoestring budget it is a great way to start out. Eventually we were able to retire our blue tarps, we had actually graduated to brown, and found that a simple 8' x 8' pole shed  with a slanting tin roof and plywood sides provided a very comfortable space for up to six or seven Soay. This can be a three-sided shelter (provided the rain and snow don't blow in), but a four sided building with a plywood door can make a convenient catch pen as well.

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                                     A simple shelter constructed of four sheets of 4’ x 8’ plywood, five  8’ 4 x 4 posts
                         set in concrete, five  2” x 4”s , a few sheets of tin roofing, some screws,  two hinges
                                     and your sheep have a comfortable home and you have a catch pen

Ventilation is extremely important in a sheep barn and so the top portion of the shed has been left open to provide good air circulation, it also makes the buildings very convenient at feeding time. Our sheds have all been built along a fence line and the feeders all placed along the wall along that fence, this allows the hay to be dropped over the wall into the feeder without having to go through a gate into the paddock.

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Hay is dropped over the shed wall into the feeder from outside the pen.


Some "instant" shelters

An arched piece of cattle panel or a dog kennel covered with a tarp make
an instant temporary and inexpensive shelter for animals or their feed

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Photos by Debbie Millard, Hope Springs Ranch, Gold Hill, Oregon


Some Ideas for Pasture Shelter from the UK

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Plastic field shelter which can be moved from pasture to pasture. This poly-group
calf hutch is available in the UK but is manufactured in the USA by Roth Mfg.
photo Gaerllwyd Flocks, Wales

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Prefab large (wooden) shed delivered to and assembled on site (L) and plastic
pig arks (R) which can be moved from field to field. Pig arks come in a variety of
styles and are widely available the UK. Gaerllwyd Flocks, Wales

A few more ideas on portable farm buildings:
For a few more ideas on portable shelter for all kinds of livestock and poultry
see the January/February 2007 issue of Hobby Farms magazine,
Tools of the Trade, Portable Farm Buildings, pg 82.


Sheep Barns

One idea for a wooden sheep barn in Oregon

Because we have had so many questions about shelter we have included a few photographs of the ideas we came up with for protecting our own sheep from the wind and rain in winter.  After forty-five years of service my old pole barn, which had been lovingly built with scraps salvaged from the dump, finally gave out. It was a monument to recycling. The roof was sagging and the entire building kept listing a little further south with each storm. I also noticed that the roof was getting closer and closer to the ground and it would not be long before I was crawling in on my hands and knees to feed the sheep. I needed a barn to house the ewes and lambs, provide me with a catch pen, a work area and stalls that I could segregate animals with special needs- and it needed to be economical. Flexibility was also a primary objective.

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These dimensions provide comfortable quarters for
about thirty Soay sheep.

Overall Dimensions:  24' x 24'  pole
  construction with T-111 plywood siding.
Cement isle six feet wide for 20'
   of the 24' of  the building, creating a 

   horseshoe shaped stable, with each side
   of the horseshoe  9' wide and 24' long.  
Four exterior gates: two 8' (side) and two       6' (end). Each wall has an opening

    providing good ventilation.
Four 8' interior gates. These are

   generally latched open against the
   interior wall so they are out of the
   way. When closed and locked in place
   they break up the 24' length in eight foot
   increments creating 8' x 9' stalls
Six 4'  interior gates allowing access from

   the isle into each of the six stalls which
   have can created by closing  8'   interior 
Floor. decomposed granite (a very coarse sand) or dirt.
With the horseshoe-shaped stable interior animals can pass around the end of the cement isle from one side of the barn to the other. They can also be unsuspectingly trapped because as they enter they cannot see that the to the opposite exit gate has been closed. With the entry gate then shut behind them they are now locked inside the stable. Once inside they can then be squeezed into smaller enclosures by closing interior gates which are normally latched open against the inside wall when not in use. This serves to make up to six 8' square stalls.   barninteriorgirlsrun.jpg (57493 bytes)

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Open 8' gate latched open back
against the interior wall, out of the way when not in use.

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   A  quick isolation/lambing stall
By closing that interior gate an 8' x 8' stall can be created
instantly with its own entrance from the central isle.

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When the sheep need to be caught for shots or worming, they are
gradually moved through a series of gates inside the barn into increasingly tighter quarters. Here they can be handled without the stress of chasing them. They have been lured into the first pen with ewe and lamb pellets placed in the feeding trough on the ground. Once inside the green pens they have nowhere to go and remain calm and quiet.

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Another idea for housing Soay sheep (in areas where snow is not an issue) is a loafing shed. Half of this barn is devoted to the loafing shed, the other half is divided into three parts, a small office for supplies and feeds and two small stalls; one which serves as an "ICU" (intensive care unit) for injured or sick animals the other for old rams that need to be separated from younger more aggressive ones. The major consideration in the construction of this barn was the ability to clean it out with a tractor at the end of the season. To that end standard 10' long panels of pipe corral with horse panel (4" x 4" squares) attached to it was used to divide the building in to two parts with an isle between the two sides. By simply disconnecting the two pieces of corral in the middle and pulling them back, the tractor has access to the entire barn.  Stalls on the other side of the isle were created with Shaul's Mfg lightweight gates and panels which can also be easily be removed and put out of the way.

In our travels throughout Great Britain, studying how others house their sheep and goats, we have seen some very clever barn ideas some of which we have included here.

A Steel barn with (Cinder) Block Walls in Wales

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Exterior view of Gaerllwyd Flock's barn in Wales.
A portion of this steel and block wall barn is used for housing those sheep that need to be checked or require treatment. Note block interior wall.

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Interior view of the same barn
      The interior of this barn is one large empty space about 10' wide and 50' long. With the use
of metal rings screwed to the block wall (see detail below) and a number
of hurdles (UK) light weight panels (US) this open space
can very easily be transformed into a series on pens with an isle between them.
Because of its flexibility any combination or pen sizes can be created.


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The key to this system is a series of rings that are screwed along the block walls, one about 8 inches  from the floor and a second one about 30 inches. The pin from the hurdle drops
through the ring on the wall holding the hurdle in place

A Steel Barn in the Highlands of Scotland

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A corrugated steel building becomes a comfortable home out of the wind and rain for sheep, goats and a friend. Note red commercial plastic bread delivery bins which have been hung sideways for use as hay mangers.

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Elphin, Scotland


                                               Catch Pens

                                                                             "Kathie's happy accident"

A catch pen is all but a necessity for general maintenance with any livestock animal. In its close confines the sheep can be caught and restrained for such chores as trimming hooves and administering shots. We happened to stumble onto a happy accident on our farm that has worked extremely well for handling a small flock of sheep in larger situation.

This system is based on the premise that one can never have too many gates.
Two back- to- back 4 sided pens, about 10' x 20' each, were set up in front of the barn with 2 outside gates, a middle gate and a 4th gate into the barn.  The two outside gates are staggered so that one cannot be viewed from the other. We used 5'H X 10'L pipe corral with 48' tall cattle panel wired to the pipe (to adapt it from llamas to sheep), but a more permanent fencing material would work just as well

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Because the far gate is out of view when entering the catch pen the sheep do not realize they are going to be trapped.

When we are ready to catch the sheep, one outside gate is closed and the animals are herded into the double catch pens through the other gate. Once all the Soay are inside the compound, the second outside gate is closed behind them. With the animals now contained we can push them from the first pen through the middle gate into the second (inner) pen which has a gate into the barn. Once confined in the second pen, they have no place to go but inside the barn through the 4th gate. Because the pens are located in front of their barn and thus, their feed, the sheep must regularly pass through them to get to their hay and so are accustomed to this routine. Further they are comfortable they have an avenue of escape because they can see the middle gate is open but cannot see that the far gate is closed..

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With this system of gates, two outside and one in the center (near the tan ewe)
the sheep are easy to handle with little stress to either the farmer or the animals.


                                                                   Soay Lamb  Creep Pen
                                                             Where lambs can go and mothers can't follow

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                               A creep pen in a corner of a paddock allows lambs to feed without competition from adult ewes.

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                  Shaul's Mfg "creep panel" with moveable pins replaces a regular lightweight panel allowing lambs to pass through


Portable sheep pens

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Shaul's Light weight panels in the US                                           Hurdles in the UK

   Lightweight panels (US) and hurdles (UK) are easily transported and lock together with pins to make temporary containment pens. They can often be found at livestock shows.                                         


Hay Feeders
Commercial and homemade

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       Of all the feeders we have tried, Shaul's  Mfg. four foot feeder with hay saver has been the best by far. The Soay can not  get their heads caught or climb into the feeder which has often been a problem. The hay saver feature has cut down tremendously on wasted hay.
          They are available in a variety of
sizes with or without the hay saver
or Shaul's will custom build them to
suit your needs.


                                   Our earliest homemade feeders are still in service.

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Guess who came to dinner?

Even the wild turkeys have made the most of this feeder. We have always used  PVC for rungs on our 
  feeders. Because it is flexible animals can get their heads out unhurt if they poke them through trying to reach the hay. 
In an effort to cut down on wasted hay with the small feeders "horse panel" (4" x 4") has been
added.  Cattle pane with its larger holes had been used in the past but we had a
continuing problem with the sheep were getting their horns caught in it.


Supplement feeders
some simple ideas

We have found an evening supplement of mixed grains or a mixture of oats and a ewe/ lamb ration has kept our flock healthy, happy and especially tame. Dinner time comes and we are nearly trampled on both of our farms. In an attempt to keep one animal from hogging the entire evening’s ration we have used small rubber feed bowls, one for each sheep, screwed to the wall of the barn or inexpensive plastic rain gutter with two board "feet" screwed to the bottom (so the sheep cannot tip it over) as a grain trough.  This can easily be cut to any size.   For lambs our old chicken feeders have  worked well. The Shaul's also make metal grain troughs in standard  4' and 8' lengths.

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                       Large used chicken feeder makes a great Soay
                                          lamb creep feeder
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                         Tipping the can gets every morsel

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Little Giant 2 qt. Dura Flex Rubber Feed Bowls have
proved nearly indestructible

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Plastic rain gutter with two boards screwed to it for feet makes an excellent grain trough. Shaul's Mfg. also builds grain troughs in standard 4' and 8' length, but will custom build to any length you wish.


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