Now that we have well-behaved guardian dogs and the spring lambs are trained to the Electronet, we can start experimenting with rotational grazing on parts of our property that have no exterior fencing. We started Sunday morning with our young fruit orchard. The hope was that the sheep could save us time by grazing amongst the trees. Whereas it’s a lot of work to maneuver the tractor through the grid, and then use a string trimmer around the tree trunks. We weren’t sure how tempting the trees would be to eat, given the lush graze in the section. I was willing to tolerate a little nibbling on the bottoms of the trees, and granted the sheep can’t reach very high anyway. But thought we’d start the trial on a weekend, where we could keep an eye on them and move them if it didn’t work out.

The experiment lasted about two hours, during which time the sheep tugged at fruit tree branches, munched leaves, and shook the trees violently while trying to scratch their itchy butts. Sometimes one little tree would have a half dozen sheep bunched around it, as if it were a great novelty worth competing over. So, we moved their section over to the next rectangle where there are no fruit trees. Back to mowing the orchard until the trees are bigger…

Though goats are well known for being browsers that prefer broadleaf plants over grass, sheep enjoy eating their fair share of leafy greens as well. I’ve read before that given the choice, sheep will comprise about 30% of their diet with broadleaf plants, and the rest grass. So though goats have the best reputation for clearing weedy areas, sheep do a fair job on blackberries and other unwanted plants as well. And apparently fruit trees, if you let them!

I am hoping that we can start doing more of this type of grazing (the grass, not the fruit trees), as the sheep will be a great help on the steep hillsides. Right now, Kirk uses a string trimmer on them, but it’s hard work. The sheep can do fast work grazing down a section, and cause little erosion if only left on a square for a few days. And they leave some nicely spread fertilizer behind to boot.

And speaking of their willingness to nibble on things. Twice this year I’ve turned the sheep loose out of the hotwire to finish out grazing a big field along the edges. I left the hotwire sitting out in the field, unpowered. The first time, when I went to gather it a week or so later, I realized that the youngster lambs had been nibbling on the wires at the solar fence charger. So I replaced them. And today I just replaced them again, because apparently it’s not just curious little lambs that like to nibble on wires! They had even managed to turn the charger back on, so there I found it, pulsing away, and shorting into the grassy ground where the clamp connectors lay, all chewed up.

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