All livestock markets alter production practices through the years. One such change in the poultry industry is that large poultry houses that 20, 30 or 40 years ago were in full swing are now abandoned because of new standards that required new buildings to house the birds.
Thus, across the Mid-West and Mid-South, hundreds – even thousands – of these poultry houses are sitting vacant on farms. In many cases, it costs more money to tear them down than to just leave them up and use them for extra storage space (yet they’re not tall enough to store hay).
Jesse Duckett runs a goat and sheep buying station in Hope, Ark. He made a trip to Minnesota in September last year for a sheep convention and toured four farms in the area.
“They were raising their sheep in old dairy and hog facilities. They were semi-closed buildings and the ewe and lamb were put in a separate pen after the ewe gave birth,” said Duckett, “this got me thinking about using ‘recycled’ old buildings for sheep production. Then I came back home to Arkansas and noticed over 100 empty chicken houses within a 30 mile radius of Hope and I started thinking that those could be used for lambing houses.”
Jodie Pennington, Ph.D., is a regional small ruminant educator for the Newton County Extension office in Neosho, Mo. He noted that, “When the poultry industry requires newer or remodeled buildings, the old barns were worth little and became an eye-sore if not maintained. The barns allow the sheep or goats to kid in the winter without worrying about bad weather and losing a higher percentage of the offspring.”
Pennington also indicated that the chicken house could also be used to feed out lambs or goats until they are ready to go to market. The houses are large enough that they could be used for lambing on one end and finishing on the other.
The project of converting a chicken house into a lambing facility could be pursued by a landowner who’s never raised sheep before and wants to get into a business that would allow him to use his old barns. Or someone who is already raising sheep could rent out a neighbor’s old barn to expand their own sheep production business.
As far as the labor and cost involved, the biggest expense would be putting in feeders and waterers. But there are no restrictions like in the chicken business, so they could be set up however the owner chooses. Duckett and Pennington both recommend having lots of 4’x6′ “stalls” (which can be movable – like a crate) and they can be made out of anything.
Duckett added, “I’ve improved my production by enclosing the ewe and lamb together for 24 hours after birth in the stalls.”
Pennington concluded, “Essentially you are taking a liability (unused chicken house that may not be maintained) and making it into a usable source of income.” He also added that they are inexpensive and lambs and goats are at record high prices this year.


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