This week, we're conducting an experiment with our friends J.R. and Claudia Smith at Blossom Hill Farm here in Auburn. The Smiths are organic melon growers. They've used cover crops for years to protect their soils in the winter and to build fertility and organic matter. Normally, they mow the cover crop (which includes oats, bell beans and Austrian peas), allow it to decompose, and then incorporate it into the soil with a rototiller. This year, they've saved one of their fields for us to graze. They are evaluating the cost savings and the impact on soil fertility. For us, it's a chance to try out something that we may be able to offer as a service to other growers in the future.
Yesterday, we put all of the ewes and lambs (close to 300 head total) onto an acre field that included cover crop, weeds, grasses, clover and brush. By this morning, they'd impacted close to 75 percent of the cover crop. We look for 3 impacts to plants - consumption, trampling or manure deposition - so this means that the sheep had eaten, walked on or pooped on about 3/4 of the plants in the paddock. I suspect that the manure deposition and trampling may actually speed up the decomposition of the plants, but we'll have to wait and see.
Thanks to J.R. and Claudia for letting us try this experiment!