Confined paddock feeding and feedlotting of sheep

Page last updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2023 - 4:25pm

Confinement feeding (also referred to as lot feeding or feedlotting) is an intensive feeding system in a confined area where all, or the majority of, feed and water is supplied to the contained animals.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development recommends using confinement feeding as part of a whole farm livestock, pasture and erosion management program.

Detailed information is found below, and a simplified Confinement Feeding Factsheet is also available under the Documents section.

When to use a confinement feedlot

We recommend having a confinement feeding system as an integral part of a whole farm livestock, pasture and erosion management program. The attached links to various guides and resources on the side of the page provide more detailed information.

Confinement feeding of sheep is a useful option for:

  • maintenance feeding during a dry season when paddock feed is limited
  • maintenance feeding at any time of the year when ground cover falls below 50% or about 750kg dry matter per hectare – this lessens the risk of wind erosion
  • deferred grazing of annual pastures during autumn in a normal year
  • finishing lambs.

Late pregnant ewes should still lamb in a paddock with at least 800kg dry matter per hectare of feed on offer (FOO) rather than in confinement pen or small paddock.

Indicators of a high risk are:

  • the peak pasture biomass in the previous spring – if it is a dry spring, significantly less biomass accumulates, and the limits for wind erosion are reached quicker than normal
  • the date of senescence/haying off – if it is an early finish, the critical limits for residual feed on offer (FOO) to prevent wind erosion will be reached earlier than normal
  • seasonal conditions through summer – summer rainfall and high temperatures increase the rate of breakdown of dry pasture.

Periods of likely risk include the time between pasture haying off and post-harvest stubble grazing; and any time when the ground cover is less than 50% or about 750kg dry matter per hectare.

Deferred grazing at the break of the season allows germinated plants to establish a root system and reach a leaf area that maximises pasture growth rate for the rest of the season. Grazing sooon after germination increases the risk of uprooting small seedlings. We recommend deferring grazing until there is at least 500 kilograms of dry matter per hectare (kg DM/ha) for weaners and 800kg DM/ha for late pregnant ewes of feed on offer (FOO).

Advantages of confinement feeding

Confinement feeding:

  • minimises soil and nutrient loss from bare ground (prevents erosion)
  • prevents grazing of dry pastures that results in bare ground
  • allows grazing to be deferred at the break of season, and pastures to reach optimal density
  • prevents sheep 'chasing the green pick' and expending energy after the break
  • enables close observation of stock in poor condition.

Disadvantages of confinement feeding

Disadvantage are:

  • cost of full-ration feeding
  • animal health problems associated with confined feeding (for example salmonella, coccidiosis, pulpy kidney, grain poisoning and worms)
  • infrastructure costs if creating a full intensive feedlot
  • need to clean and provide adequate water in each pen or paddock used for sheep feeding (at least 4–6 litres of water per sheep, per day)
  • effort and expense of effluent disposal.

Is confinement feeding considered a feedlot?

Feeding stock for production, such as finishing prime lambs in a feedlot, is not covered on this page and specialist advice should be sought if you wish to set up a permanent feedlot. Feedlots must meet local government planning requirements and may also require approval from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation. For advice on setting up a feedlot, contact DPIRD’s Agribusiness Development at

Space requirements

The tables below outline minimum space requirements for different classes of sheep when confined in either a sacrificial paddock or outdoor feedlot.

Table 1 Minimum recommended space per sheep in a confined area (e.g. sacrifice paddock)


Space allowance (square metres)



Dry adults


Ewes in late pregnancy*


Ewes with lambs at foot


 *Note: Late pregnant ewes should lamb in a paddock rather than in confinement pen or small paddock

Sheep should be introduced to any new ration slowly – over two weeks (especially on high starch diets). Rations can be tailored to sheep requirements depending on the class of stock.

Selecting a site

A confinement feeding area needs to be:

  • large enough to house expected mobs
  • well protected from wind and water erosion
    • on a slope of about 3–4% will aid run-off without causing erosion
    • grade banks placed above confined feeding areas on sloping sites will reduce run-off
    • stable or sheltered soils that retain a ground cover
    • trees or sheds outside of the area can reduce wind speed
    • no more than 20% of the site should contain remnant vegetation. Existing shelter belts or vegetation can be utilised for shade. Trees within the confinement area will likely need to be protected from ringbarking.
  • well-drained soils that are not too dusty when dry or muddy when wet
  • convenient to yards, silos and a water source.
  • close enough to base to allow regular checking of animals and minimise travel, but far enough to avoid the potential effects of dust and smell.
  • at low risk of nutrient run-off
    • at least 50 metres (m) from intermittently flowing watercourses and 100m from permanent streams or rivers
    • away from dams so that run-off does not contaminate the dam


A guaranteed supply of good quality water is essential in a confinement feeding system. The amount of water consumed by sheep depends on the weather, type of feed, quality of water and their physiological stage (for example pregnant, lactating).

  • Provide a minimum of 4–6 litres per sheep per day, up to 10 litres per sheep per day in hot weather. See livestock water requirements and water budgeting for more information.
  • Design delivery so that peak demand in hot conditions can be met, and that accidental stoppages are always less than 20 hours.
    • The delivery pipe diameter and water pressure must be adequate to supply peak demand.
    • Flow rate is critical to ensure rapid replacement of water levels. Sheep will naturally take turns drinking so trough space is less important than flow rate. 
  • Do not include dams in the confinement area as they can become boggy.
  • Use troughs to supply water.
    • Clean troughs regularly to remove contamination with faeces, dust and feed – contamination will reduce water intake.
    • Shade troughs where possible – hot water will reduce intake
    • Place water troughs at the opposite end to hay and feed sources to reduce fouling.
    • We recommend a minimum trough length of 30cm plus 1.5cm per sheep (with one-sided trough access) for mobs of up to 500. For example, a trough length of 7.8m is the minimum requirement for a mob of 500 sheep

Introducing sheep to confinement feeding

The aims are to prevent diseases or ill health from a rapid change of diet, and to manage the nutritional needs of separate classes of sheep.

  • Keep similar animals in one mob: pregnant ewes; weaner lambs; wethers. Do not put diseased or injured sheep in with healthy animals.
  • Inspect and treat for parasites as necessary.
  • Treat all sheep with a vaccination to prevent clostridial disease (pulpy kidney – enterotoxaemia).
  • Provide good quality water and rouphage on entry and for the first 36 hours.
  • Ensure the diet meets the nutritional requirements of the stock. This will make them more robust and resilient to disease (see Supplemetary feeding and feed budgeting for sheep)
  • Gradually introduce grains in the diet, to avoid grain poisoning (acidosis).
  • Monitor the animals for health and liveweight, to maintain target condition.
  • Regularly clean feed and water troughs to reduce the incidence of disease.

Mob size and confinement area

Mob size should be no more than 500 sheep, and farmer experience suggests mobs of 200 are better for young sheep. Allow 5 square metres (m2) per head: for a mob of 500 dry ewes, the confinement system would need to be 2500m2 (for example, 50m x 50m or 25m x 100m).

Adjust the mob size to the class of sheep run in confinement. Having more than one pen allows for sheep to be separated according to class or age and allows for pens to be spelled.

Feed troughs

Feed troughs are suited to maintenance feeding, where intake is restricted.

Feeding into troughs prevents feed wastage and reduces the risk of animal health problems (salmonellosis and coccidiosis). Troughs need not be pretty nor expensive - just functional. Troughs can be designed so that sheep have access to one side or both sides – it is important that the correct feed space is provided to reduce shy feeding.

  • For double-sided access to troughs, allow 15cm per lamb or 20cm per adult of trough length (15-20m per 100 sheep)
  • For single sided access to a trough, allow 30cm per lamb or 40cm per adult of trough length (30-40m per 100 sheep)

Raise troughs off the ground to reduce fouling. Lift the top edge up to 40–45cm for weaners and 50–55cm for adults. Adjust the height where a feed trailer has to straddle the trough

Troughs can be constructed of many materials: conveyor belt matting, galvanised iron, shade cloth, tarpaulin and commercial channeling.

Regular weighing and condition scoring is needed to maintain target condition, and poor performers should be removed and treated separately.


Self-feeders can save labour in feedlots where the objective is to feed for production.

Self-feeders are more suited to finishing stock to a marketable weight – sheep can maximise feed intake.

Less trough space is required for self-feeders. Allow 4–5cm per lamb and 5–10cm per adult (use the upper end of this allowance for sheep with wool longer than 2cm). Sheep tend to arrange themselves better around circular self-feeders than rectangular self-feeders.


Lick-feeders can also be used in finishing systems but are more suited for providing supplementary rates of feed to stock for maintenance during drought or when pasture is limiting. They are also useful in stubbles. The ‘lick’ principle requires sheep to actively lick grain from restricted areas within a feed trough until ‘tongue-tired’.

Intake can be regulated to a few hundred grams of supplement daily, but intake rates can be variable. As with self-feeders, lick-feeders save on labour, wastage of feed, and reduce the proportion of shy feeders. There can be issues with blockages due to ‘fines’, and acidosis can still occur – lick-feeders are not a substitute for safe grain introduction.


It is important to provide adequate roughage to confined-fed animals. In addition to a balanced ration, a minimum of 10–15% effective fibre needs to be supplied. Roughage:

  • stimulates and cleans rumen walls
  • encourages cud chewing (35 000 x/day)
  • maintains rumen motility
  • reduces acidosis risk.

A general rule, if 40% or more animals are ‘cud chewing’ at any one time, fibre level is adequate. An inspection of manure will indicate if roughage is adequate – clean pellets indicate that roughage is adequate; soft or runny poo suggests that acidosis may be a problem; mucus-covered runny poo is an indication that acidosis is occurring and roughage intake is too low. See the photos in the MLA publication National procedures and guidelines for intensive sheep and lamb feeding systems, and the explanation of acidosis.

To avoid a large amount of hay wastage and injury, you can:

  • chop and mix it with the grain
  • surround large hay bales with weldmesh or panelling (such as portable sheep yards) – so that animals can still access the roughage source
  • use hayracks for large square bales
  • prevent sheep from climbing on top of hay bales or rolls – it is possible for bales to collapse and suffocate or crush sheep, especially lambs.

Animal health considerations

Keep an eye out for signs of acidosis, shy feeders, flystrike and pink eye, and regularly clean feed and water troughs to reduce the incidence of disease. Ensure the diet meets the nutritional requirements of the stock. This will make them more robust and resilient to disease.

The reintroduction of sheep to pasture after confinement feeding must be managed carefully. The change in diet from grain to fresh pastures can cause health problems, such as pulpy kidney. Ensure vaccination for pulpy kidney is up to date and release sheep from confinement gradually, after they have had their ration for the day and aren’t hungry and continue to feed hay and grain over at least a few days.