Building Simple Sheep Shelters

Yesterday afternoon I built my second new sheep shelter. I built one last Saturday afternoon also.

These are portable shade structures for my sheep out on pasture from May through October. Though the shelters will not hold up to snow, they are sturdy and heavy enough not to be wrecked by wind, while light enough to be easily moved along with the grazing.

Each shelter takes me about four hours to build — but most of that is due to not owning an electric Skilsaw or compound miter saw (chop saw). I use my little cordless circular saw and every 45° angle cut exhausts the battery. This is extremely frustrating but I’ve schooled myself to patience.

(I only have to remember back to the fall of 2008, when I built the inside of the barn with hand tools. I told my friend Tommy that it took me an hour to hang each sheet of 3/4″ plywood lining the walls. “How could it take you an hour to hang one sheet?” he asked incredulously. Because I had no electricity and had to cut each 4×8 piece to fit with a hand saw. Naturally, it was after that project was finished that I broke down and bought a cordless saw.)

If you have an electric saw of any kind, and don’t have to busy yourself with other tasks while your battery recharges, a shelter can be put together in about 90 minutes.

Each shelter requires:

two treated 12-foot 4x4s as skids

four 12-foot 2x4s

one 16-foot cattle panel

two 6×8 tarps

some 3″ deck screws

two 1.5″ mending plates

four 4″ Timberloks

zip ties

First cut the ends of your skids to 45°. Set flat, the angles allow the shelter to flow over bumps when you’re towing it.

Measure your cattle panel. These panels I got through Larry are a few inches taller than the panels I’ve used in the past. They are 52″. Therefore I cut four 2x4s to 54″. (A few of these panels were hit by a tractor and slightly bent. I could hardly complain as new they cost $26 apiece and I paid about $9.50. I decided to use the bent ones in my shelters rather than my fencing, as they would be covered by tarps.)

I screw down one 2×4 at each end, 7″ in from the tip of the skid, joining the two skids together.

Then I lay my panel inside the far 2×4, force the panel into an arch, and fit the other end inside the near 2×4. These panels are slightly heavier weight than panels I’ve used in the past, so a bit harder to control, especially if it’s windy. If the panel jumps away from you, temporarily tie one edge to your 2×4. I used baling twine.

Next, on both ends, I lay a second 2×4 on edge and screw it to the first, trapping the panel in a 2×4 sandwich. I used to use mending plates to attach the panels directly to the skids, but I think this will be stronger, as each sandwich of boards receives nine screws down its length. It requires some agility and strength to keep the arch high and straight while screwing the 2x4s together. I apply pressure to the 2x4s with my feet, while pushing the wire with my left hand and sinking screws with my right. My last step is to sink a 4″ Timberlok through both 2x4s at each corner for extra strength.

Next I measure the space between the two sandwiches. It should be 10′. I mark each skid at 5′, center a scrap of 2×4 standing on end, and mark around it. The 2×4 on end will support the ridge, so has to be on center. For both of these shelters I used a scrap of 2×6 cut to 54″ and screwed it down next to where the ridge support will fall. (The 2×6 is not on center; the ridge support is on center.) The 2×6 further braces the skids and also gives you something to screw your ridge support to. If I didn’t have a scrap of 2×6 I’d use two 2x4s.

Measure for and cut your 2×4 ridge posts. In my case they were 62″. I use more screws to toe-nail and face-nail the ridge posts. I do my best to keep them plumb, though I’ll have a chance to brace them straight later.

Next I measure and cut a 54″ 2×4 for the ridge and screw it down.

Now I cut four braces out of the various leftover scraps of 2×4, angling each end. These 45° cuts exhaust my Dewalt batteries, so between each brace I muck a stall or spread mulch around my bulbs. One might also play the ukelele.

Now I do my best to push the posts perfectly plumb, using my braces. Only after the posts are braced do I screw down a small, square, galvanized mending plate to attach the wire panel to the ridge at each end. I don’t use the tiny screws that come with the plates, but more 3″ deck screws, for strength.

Now it’s time to put on the two tarps. I start at the ridge and work my way down each side.

I have learned from experience that it is worth it to pay for zip locks. I used baling twine at first, but twine rots, the tarp loosens, and it starts to flap in the wind. Flapping will shred a tarp in no time. If it stays taut, an $8 tarp can last three seasons.

Tying down the tarps takes longer than you think. I listen to hymns.

But eventually you are done.

One side of this shelter was hard to tarp tightly because the panel was so bent. I did the best I could.

All that remains is to tie a 6′ length of rope with a loop to one end for towing.

And bring on the sheep!


16 Responses to Building Simple Sheep Shelters

  1. Noodles says:

    What a wonderful post, Sel. How proud and amazed HBW would be!
    Happy Mother’s Day. I hope that your children give you the crowbar (?) of your dreams. (Or was that a birthday hint? I forget.) Anyway, reading your post I am thinking of our father right now, and how he lives on.

  2. Ash says:

    Hi! What a great idea! I think I’ll try this for my sheep! Thanks!

  3. Betsy says:

    We assembled a sheep shelter today with our 12-year old son. Your directions were clear and easy to follow. It’s been so hot and dry…our five sheep really appreciate the shade! thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Cait says:

    I have seen this style many times before. I wonder how this would be in the wind? We have about 50 sheep now and are looking for ways to get creative with shelters for them all (split into 2 groups so for about 25 sheep each).

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Cait, I have found they do very well in the wind. If the tarps are attached tightly they do not flap and shred. However, in a high enough wind they will sail slowly across the pasture. I have thought that could be stopped with big stakes of rebar… however I haven’t tried, as it’s not a big enough problem.

      To make them heavier and less prone to “sailing” one could use treated 6x6s as skids… but that would make them tougher to move generally.

      I also have an idea for a very large shelter which I hope to address this summer (I’ve been gathering materials in the last year). This will be based on Joel Salatin’s “shade-mobile” idea.

      • Aaron says:

        Thanks for the great design. I rotate my sheep daily in an electric fence, only 6 sheep. This means their pen is not very large. In a high wind when you say they slowly sail in the pasture. How far and slow is this. Would they quickly get pushed into my fence? Any insight would be appreciated. Thanks, Aaron

      • adkmilkmaid says:

        Hi Aaron — the speed they move would depend on the wind. Mine move very slowly, even in a high wind. Good luck!

      • Tim says:

        I use two footlong pigtail anchors (like for securing a dog chain to the ground) to anchor it. That held it secure in pretty much all winds last summer – even in 60+ mph winds.

  5. erin says:

    This is a great post – I’m going to try this for my sheep. Though, do you think that this would work with 2 4’x8′ cattle panels instead of one 16′-er? Cattle panels are hard to find around here (for some reason) though I’ve found a place where I can get some 8′ panels.
    They could possibly each be screwed in to the ridge and zip-tied together…
    How many sheep will fit in one of these shelters before they start to be crowded?

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Hi Erin… I’m not sure it would work with two panels — the integrity of the shelter depends on the strength of the arch. I don’t think you could get that arch strength from two panels, but try it and see! Zip ties would definitely NOT be of use. I would look for mending plates and VERY long screws (not the screws that come with the mending plates) or with plumbing plates that attach pipes to a wall (though I think these would be too loose). Good luck!

      p.s. I currently use two shelters for ten sheep and ten lambs. They tend to pile up on each other but when I use three shelters for the same number of sheep, they often ignore the third. They enjoy lying close.

      • erin says:

        Ah yes, I see what you mean by the strength of the arch. I will just have to find some 16’ers….


  6. Jacque says:

    My lamachas ( Goats) climb to the top. They are Crazy like their dadd( me) But i use these for Chicken covers.

    Thanks for the demonstration.

  7. Annie briat says:

    Awesome idea easy and cheep,love it good for my mini donkeys

  8. Tim says:

    Thanks for the great instructions. We are hoping to get sheep for the first time and your structure looks like it will suit our needs perfectly. We built one matching your design this afternoon.

  9. Randy Kleinman says:

    So 3 days short of 6 years later, how did this sheep shelter hold up?

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