Thursday, December 2, 2010

moving day

I use a method of rotational grazing with my sheep and my chickens. I started this last year so I’m pretty new at this but I am convinced of all the benefit from what’s also known as managed intensive grazing. From health of the pasture to the health of the animals this is a good thing. Rotational grazing in a nut shell is when the grass eaters are fenced in a small area in the pasture and allowed to eat it down a little and then are moved in several days or less to a new area. So in my operation I have about 20 bred ewes and a llama in one pen and then 10 butcher rams in another, and right now they are both being rotated in the five acre plot I used for the garden last year.

They look like they are benefiting greatly from this type of managed grazing. They are all good size and weight and look pretty darn healthy. There is a lot of weeds and dried grass for them to eat and they clearly love being let out on to new pasture. The fence most people use in this situation is called Electronet. It looks like regular rolled field fence but it’s plastic and all electric. The sheep stay in and predators stay out. The fence I use is 164’ long and its fairy light, so it’s easy to fold and drag place to place.

Now, the problem I have is it takes me all frikin’ day to move sheep. First off, all the grass and weeds can’t be touching the hot parts of the fence because it will ground out and loose its zapping strength. Also they have been known to cause the occasional grass fire. So out comes the measuring tape, brush hog to mow a path for the fence, and then off goes the brush hog and on goes the chain to move the shelter and then there’s moving the waterers, mineral feeders and now the grain feeder. Then there’s moving the sheep, getting the water to reach, and then hooking up the electric. All day. This project takes me all day. The garden is most difficult area because of the raised rows so it’s quite a bumpy ride on the tractor going across the rows! And I only have one extra fence to start with on the new rotation.

Yesterday it was time to move them. I only had an hour before I had to get ready for work in Stillwater. I had previously mowed so that was taken care of, no chance for rain so if I didn’t move the shelters no biggy, as long as they had everything else things would be fine. I started to move fences and then realized I had planned it a little wrong. Frustrated and in a hurry I just dropped the whole fence and began to start over. Out the lamb rams meandered, unsure of what I was going to do. I refused to look at them, wander as they might I still have the grain and that they cannot refuse.

So I went about finishing the fence making myself oblivious that the lambs were now trying to get into the winter garden. Pay them no mind I told myself the gate is shut they cannot get in, carry on. I managed to get the ewes set up, they were happy to see the new area and went right to the job at hand eating. I couldn’t see the rams anymore and because I didn’t care where they were, I wasn’t looking. Several came back and ate some more alfalfa and then left again I ignored them. I almost had their fence set up. They won’t cross over a fence that is just lying down so I have to make sure there is an opening where the don’t have to walk over or touch the fence. So I had the last part of the fence ready to go. Off to get the grain. They were way on the other side now I gave them no mind.

Then the strangest thing happened. As I started walking away from their new pen they started making a B line for it. All 10 of them in a single file line walked back to the area and right into their new pen, they drank water and started munching on the remainder of the mornings alfalfa. I walked back calmly put up the remainder of the fence, looked at my phone. One hour! I did it. I turned the power on checked the charge and all was well! Let’s do it again in three days.

1 comment:

Sue said...

Good for you, an ideal day of grazing mgmt! You are the good shepherd indeed! I love to watch the ewes line up at the fence, waiting to be released into the new pen. It must be like shoppers felt waiting the stores to open on Black Friday.