Optimal housing conditions for sheep

Housing conditions, including ventilation rate, temperature, humidity, bedding and stocking density, are directly correlated with health, welfare and performance of dairy ruminants. Bedding materials contaminated with animals’ excreta (urine, dung, manure) have increased microbial growth, resulting in mastitis problems which increase somatic cell count in milk and umbilical cord infection in lambs.

Bedding conditions (moisture, temperature, pH), combined with limited ventilation rate also affect atmospheric ammonia concentration, which above a critical value (25 ppm) negatively affects animals health and welfare.

Gaseous ammonia is a severe irritant to the respiratory tract, capable of inhibiting the efficiency of the respiratory system at high levels. Slowed breathing, coughing, eye, mouth and nose irritation, poor weight gain, decreased resistance to diseases are some of the main symptoms of high ammonia concentration.

Production indices such as feed intake, feed conversion efficiency and productivity are all adversely affected in sheep and lambs by exposure to ammonia levels above 50 ppm.

Thus, an adequate ventilation rate in the animal house to renew the atmospheric air in it, keeping the moisture levels of bedding to minimum, more frequent replacement of bedding, and lower stocking densities are some of the main good practices to reduce the atmospheric ammonia level in animal houses. This helps to reduce the risk of infections and the use of antibiotics for their treatment.