Monday, August 22, 2011

Sheep in the Woods

In the 4-6 weeks before we turn the rams in with the ewes in the fall, we try to put the ewes on a rising plane of nutrition - in other words, we try to put the ewes on better quality feed.  This is called "flushing," and it can increase the number of twins conceived.  In years past, we've tried feeding hay, with some success.  This year, we're taking our entire ewe flock to Edwards Family Farm in Colfax.
Taff moving the ewes to the night pen.

Allen and Nancy Edwards are primarily tree farmers - they grow timber.  They also grow lots of deer brush, buck brush, blackberries, and other perennial vegetation that is green even in August.  Nutritional analysis shows that this vegetation is high in protein and/or energy - essential elements in flushing the ewes.  Blackberries, for example, have a similar nutritional profile to alfalfa hay.  In past years, Allen and Nancy have managed this resource using goats.  This year, we're trying it with sheep.  Sheep are generally grazers more than browsers (that is, they prefer grasses and forbs to brush), but we think our sheep will utilize this feed effectively.

Today, Paul and I moved approximately 100 ewes from the Placer Land Trust's Canyonview Preserve near Auburn to Edwards Family Farm.  These ewes had been grazing on yellow starthistle mostly - and they were growing bored with it.  They were thrilled to be turned into the lush vegetation along Smother's Ravine!
Sheep in the forest!

Wildland grazing, like we're doing at Allen and Nancy's, presents different challenges than our work in Rocklin or Auburn (decidedly more urban settings).  Since we put sheep in Rocklin in March, I've slept with my cell phone by my bed - I'm constantly worried that we'll have sheep in the street somewhere!  At Allen and Nancy's my worries have more to do with nature - I'm concerned about predators and poisonous plants. I'm still sleeping near my phone, but I'll rest easier knowing that we don't have sheep out in a residential neighborhood!

Our management strategies for this project are a bit different.  We'll be using herding techniques in addition to our usual electric fencing systems - much to the delight of the border collies.  At night, the sheep will go into an electric fence paddock - more protection from the coyotes, mountain lions and bears in Colfax.  We're also using all of our guard dogs in Colfax.  During the day, I'll herd the sheep to the areas of the Edwards Family Farm that we want to graze - pockets of brush and green grass.  Tonight, the sheep are night penned in one of Allen and Nancy's garden plots - they are eating dry vetch, yellow starthistle and bell beans.  Based on the crunching noise as they grazed, I'd say they're mostly eating vetch seeds and beans - it sounded like a cafeteria full of people eating Grape Nuts!  They loved it!
Munching away in the night pen.

We're hoping that there is enough forage for the ewes to stay at Edwards Family Farm through flushing and the breeding season (which ends in mid November).  While it was hot today, it's likely to be quite cold by the time we move them down to lower pastures.  I'm looking forward to being less spread out - I like working at Allen and Nancy's, and having sheep is a good excuse to be there every day for the next 10-12 weeks!

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