The Flock

The sheep have grazed their way down Betty’s field all the way to the bottom, the first time in three years they have made it this far. [Double-click on photo to enlarge.]

The speed with which they have moved down the field has startled me, and is due to my different management.

Knowing that I would be laid up with my knee surgery, and that I could not ask anyone else to move the sheep daily, in May I’d bought two more electrified nets from Premier Supplies.  This brought me to seven, and with seven nets I could make my paddocks not from two nets in a narrow rectangle but from four in a large square. Not being a math whiz, or even math competent, I was astonished to realize how this change more than doubled the amount of enclosed grazing.

When I mentioned this to Mike, the school farmer, he looked at me in surprise. “Well, of course!” (I could hear the unspoken Duh!)

Instead of moving the sheep every day I have moved them every four days. This is a much easier schedule for me.

Unfortunately there has been more waste. The field is exactly three small paddocks wide. Using the larger paddocks, there are ungrazed sections on each side of the pasture that have had to be mowed.

Moreover, the sheep have been able to be choosier. There is a grass in the middle section of the field that they do not like. I’m not sure what it is. At maturity it has golden seed heads.

For the sheep, this is like broccoli to George H.W. Bush. They eat all around it, and hope you don’t notice.

That is a paddock after four days of grazing. Of course, I could leave the sheep in a paddock longer, forcing them to eat this unpopular grass, but when I’m not sure, I tend to respect animal instincts. Lots of plants are mildly poisonous or unhealthy. While I’ve been out of commission with my knee, it has been simpler and safer just to move the sheep on, and mow the leavings.

Jon has been my trusty mower. I think like his mother and grandmother, he finds mowing soothing and satisfying.

This has been a dry spring after a dry winter. I am surprised that there is not more talk locally of our drought conditions. I am worried. Normally June is the time of the lushest grass; but this year the pastures are barely regrowing. Allen’s pond is now almost entirely dried up.

I can only think that all this unusual sunshine, coupled with the fact that this is not an agricultural community, has all everyone dazzled and out playing. The last thing a tourist town is hoping for — especially here in these normally sodden Adirondacks — is rain. But we need it badly.

Tomorrow I will “run” (hobble quickly, limping) the sheep back to the top of the slope and start our second pass down the field. I hope the grass holds out.

And I pray it rains soon.


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