I’m feeling very good about the improvements that I’m seeing in Betty’s field after two summers of pasturing my sheep there. With the drought, the grass in August is browning after the sheep crop it down, but with a few good rains it will be green again before going dormant with frosts.
The big thing is that the brush and wiry scrub that were trying to take over the field are entirely gone, and the goldenrod and other weeds are diminished by at least 75%. Meanwhile the thick, choking mat of old lodged grass has disappeared into the soil.
Other people notice, too. This summer at least a half dozen people have commented to me, as a woman did yesterday, “It’s just amazing how the sheep have renovated that field!”
Though I always agree, I smile to myself.
It’s true that the sheep are eating the grass and fertilizing the land with their manure. However, if I had merely fenced the whole seven acres and let the girls loose on it, today it would look like a moth-eaten blanket and be just as weedy as ever. What has renovated the field has been my management of the sheep.
I have enclosed the flock in a small paddock and every day — or every other day, depending on the growth cycle of the grass — I’ve moved them to a new patch. Then I’ve mowed off the weeds they’ve left behind. This year, as last year, my neighbor Tony agreed to brush-hog the bottom third of the field with his tractor when the sheep couldn’t keep up with the rocketing spring growth. (Next year I’ll either bring my cows down for two weeks to graze off that section, or I’ll mow it bit by bit with my lawnmower.)
The result is an increasingly productive and healthy pasture and bouncing, healthy sheep. Here are two of this year’s lambs. The oldest are almost as large as their mothers.
It’s very satisfying.