22 July 2015

Hanging with the Flock

As summer wears on, the sheep pasture tends to get increasingly well-grazed. That's especially true this year, for a couple of reasons. First, we had a bumper crop of lambs. With 37 animals in total, that's really pushing our pasture's limits. Secondly, we've had an extraordinary amount of rain. That would usually mean more growth for grass, but the pasture is in a low-lying portion of the property. That has led to flooding, and occasionally to the formation of a temporary pond / swamp where they would normally graze.

Meanwhile, the grass in our yard has been going gangbusters and we've had to mow it nearly constantly. On occasion, we've tried bagging the lawn clippings and feeding them to the sheep. They usually eat some of those clippings, then quickly tire of it and leave a large amount to rot.

The sheep can't simply be turned into the yard to graze. We have several fruiting bushes and brambles that would be destroyed in minutes if the sheep had at them. The key is to let them into the yard for short periods of time, and to supervise them while they graze. Any time they make a move on the raspberry bushes, or the grape vines, they get chased back to the lawn. Here they are, spread out behind the house, in the early morning shadows (click any photo to enlarge it):
Note the clothesline down in the corner of the yard. Soon after taking this picture, I lugged a basket of laundry down there and continued supervising the sheep as I hung it up to dry.

The backyard lawn is a nice mix of grass, clover, and plantain. The sheep love it so much, I've begun leaving a wide swath of it uncut when we mow the rest of the lawn. They also enjoy munching on windfall apples under that large tree.

Other parts of the backyard are pure weeds and are difficult to cut even with the lawnmower. Here, several sheep are going to work along a retaining wall near the barn, where we used to have a woodpile. It's hard to describe just how much fun it is to stand in the yard, watching this.

These two close-up shots give a better sense for how tall the weeds are in that area, and how thoroughly the sheep have stripped those weeds of their leaves.

By far, the sheep are most helpful in going after the long grass along fence lines. Rather than wasting time trying to trim that grass with a weed-wacker, I can let the sheep fill their bellies taking it down for me.
 The sheep don't always behave themselves, and groups of them sometimes make a break for the "off limits" vegetation. It doesn't usually take much to drive them away, and get them back where they're supposed to be.

I typically let them out twice a day: once in the early morning, before going to work (sometimes while still enjoying my coffee), and again in the evening, at the end of the work day. Standing out in the yard with them, watching them do their thing, is a wonderful mind-clearer. It's a thousand times better than sitting in freeway traffic, commuting to and from a job in the city.

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