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Sheep farming made easy – Part 10: Handling systems

A loading ramp is in integral part of your sheep handling facility. Photo:

The sheep handling facility consists of ramps, pens and scales. A practical approach is the secret in designing the facility and even aspects such as sheep behaviour should be considered. This month we look at fixed, adaptable and mobile loading ramps.

We thank the ARC Institute for Agricultural Engineering in South Africa for making their manual on sheep production and facilities available to the readers of ProAgri Zambia.

The lay-out of the handling facility will determine how effective it is regarding labour requirements and the movement of sheep. The specific lay-out, however mainly depends on the requirements of the manager and the choice of the site. These two factors vary drastically and it is therefore almost impossible to suggest the ideal layout.

A general objective in the design of the facility is that various tasks must be performed with the minimum movement and labour. Tasks that can be done simultaneously must not influence each other adversely. Facilities not used simultaneously can be used for more than one activity, such as using the reception pen for the dip, loading platform, crush or work walk-way.

Great cost savings can be obtained by using durable local material that needs little maintenance for the construction of the handling facility. Typical materials include wood, steel, bricks or concrete. Although steel is usually more expensive than wood, it will last longer and is therefore the better choice. The use of bricks and concrete gives a neat appearance, but can cause problems during changes, or extension to the complex.

Elements of the handling facility

The typical handling facility can include the following:

  • Loading ramp
  • Shearing pens
  • Adapting pens
  • Holding pens (reception and dispatch pens)
  • Crowding pen or reception pen
  • Gathering pen
  • Crush or working alley
  • Sorting pens and sorting gates
  • Weighing scale
  • Dip facilities
  • Dripping pens

Loading ramp

A loading ramp is provided in the system for easier loading of sheep. The loading ramp can be part of the facility or a mobile unit, if there is more than one loading point. Figures 1 and 2 illustrate various types of loading ramps.

A mobile loading ramp will reduce time and labour whenever sheep must be loaded to be transported.

Important points include:

  • Sheep must preferably not be loaded against the sun.
  • The loading ramp must be placed in such a way that free access is provided for a vehicle, for both side and rear loading methods.
  • The loading ramp must have a non-slip floor surface to prevent injuries.
  • The sides of the loading structure must be smooth and without any protrusions to prevent injuries.
  • There must be no opening between the loading ramp and the truck. It will make sheep hesitant to climb onto and from the truck and can cause injuries if the sheep should step into the opening.
  • If the loading ramp is wider than the truck, the openings between the loading ramp wall and the truck must be closed with adjustable gates to prevent the sheep from jumping down.
Figure 1: Permanent loading ramp unit

The three types of loading ramps, namely fixed, adjustable and mobile, are briefly discussed:

Fixed loading platform:

In cases where the layout of handling facilities as well as the height of the truck or LDV on which sheep are loaded is fixed, a loading ramp, built of concrete and bricks is recommended. A concrete floor is usually provided, and sides of the loading ramp can be

covered with a brick wall, steel, timber or wire partitions. The bottom sides of the upwards ramp can be made of brick walls, corrugated iron sheets or wood and filled with earth and compacted.

The most general height for a fixed loading ramp is 1,2 m above ground surface.

The sides of the loading ramp must be between 1,0 and 1,2 m high so that sheep cannot jump down. A general width is also between 1,0 and 1,2 m and the slope must be approximately 12°. In many cases, a 500 mm operator’s platform is made on one or both sides of the loading ramp to make inspection and support of sheep during the loading process possible.

Adjustable loading ramp:

A simple adjustable loading ramp can be constructed of wood or steel. An upward portion is built the same way as a fixed ramp and the last portion is adjustable as shown on the accompanying sketch. The measurements of the loading ramp are the same as for a fixed loading ramp. This type of ramp is especially suitable for larger units or auction yards where trucks and LDV’s of different heights or multiple decks load and unload sheep.

Figure 2: Mobile loading ramp unit

Mobile loading ramp:

A variety of commercial mobile loading ramps, adaptable to various handling systems, are available in the trade. This loading ramp is normally mounted on a set of wheels so that it can be easily hitched onto the LDV and towed. It is usually difficult, expensive and time consuming to build a loading ramp such as this. These loading ramps are especially suitable for extensive conditions where camps are far from the main handling facilities, or at large production units where more than one loading point is present at the handling facility. See Figure 3 on page 10.

Next month we shall look at the different kinds of pens needed on a sheep farm. Published with acknowledgement to the ARC Institute for Agricultural Engineering for the use of their Sheep Facilities Manual. Visit for more information.

Figure 3: Deck loading ramp unit.

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