Last Winter, Don Rogers, of Altona, Ill., used what may be the state's first solar lamb nursery, a structure he believes can be easily adapted for use by other livestock.
Rogers, a self-employed carpenter who also farms 80 acres and has a herd of 200 ewes, became interested in a solar building for his lambs when he read about solar experiments conducted by Purdue University several years ago.
In the fall of 1982, he had the opportunity to buy a greenhouse frame constructed of steel conduit and covered with plastic. He took the greenhouse apart and moved the pieces to his farm where he erected the structure at one end of his barn. He built a conventional wood frame for one end and attached the other end to the barn, which allowed the sheep to wander back and forth between the two buildings.
The 20 by 80-ft. structure was bolted to a frame along the ground and anchored into the ground with stakes. Rogers covered the frame with a double layer of heavy greenhouse plastic.
A small fan constantly blows air between the two layers to provide insulation, and to prevent the plastic from rubbing together and developing holes.
Although the nursery does give with the wind, it has never collapsed. Rogers' only fear is a severe hailstorm and, even then, he probably would have to replace only the plastic.
He built gates to line the interior of the nursery and also constructed 10 pens, a creep area and feeders. After lambing in a nearby shed, the ewes and lambs are transferred to one of the ten pens for one or two days. Then, the lambs are allowed access to the creep area.
Two used furnace fans at one end of the nursery bring cool air inside and force warm air into the barn.
Rogers notes that ventilation was his biggest problem: "I used only one fan at first but, as the days lengthened, I found it necessary to install another fan. Overall, I've been well pleased with performance of the solar unit. Last winter, we had a 40 degree heat rise on sunny days," he points out.
"Another nice thing about the nursery is its low cost." Rogers believes the solar structure can be easily adapted for other livestock. "You could make portable walls of wood panels which could be removed to open the sides on hot days," he points out. "You'd also probably want a cement block foundation, or poured cement walls. You want the walls high enough so animals can't reach over."