For the next 5 weeks I have been assigned to ‘Sheep’ – a new and challenging experience.
Milkwood have recently implemented ‘Cell Grazing’ using 55 Wiltipoll wethers and ewes. In addition to the economic benefits of owning Wiltipoll sheep they are also used to reduce unwanted growth of blackberry and weed grasses on the property.’Cell grazing’ bascially means a small fenced off paddock is constructed with movable electric wire and posts – the 55 sheep are grazed in this cell of about 480m2 for 24 to 48 hours then moved to the adjacent cell. The sheep are very selective and will eat the good stuff first, but as they are restricted they will eventually eat the less palatable growth/weeds. (Just like how we humans eat the choc chip biscuits from the biscuit tin first and gradually move on to the scotch finger, then when there is no other option, we finally get around to eating the milk arrowroot). The cell is then left for a minimum of 100 days to allow regrowth and manure decomposition. Evidence of Dung Beetle action is great as they return the carbon and nitrogen in the sheep dung to the soil, so that the nutrient cycles can be maintained. I’ve observed Dung beetle activity after only one day which means there are plenty of beetles around. In this way the soil is fertilized and eventually the area could be planted out with a crop of food trees – enriching and building soil is the goal. Building soil with mulch and manures also improves water retention.
The challenges so far have been erecting the mobile electric fences securely to ensure the sheep don’t escape – as being confined is not what they are used to. Of course there are a select few who manage to slip their way through – Houdini #320 and Lamb Chops #318 to be precise – the sheep are ear tagged with numbers so ID is made easy. Due to the increase in getaways I have upped security, from 3 electric wire strands to 4. Each day after breakfast I head to the other side of the property to check on the sheep and monitor the level of pasture consumed. Dung is also monitored for irregularities and worms. Unfortunately one of the herd suddenly passed away last week and we suspect either snake bite or Barbers Pole worm – the latter being less likely, but monitoring for this condition is underway. Moving the herd to a new paddock every other day also breaks the worm cycle – another huge benefit of Cell Grazing.
Lamb Chops got her name because this will be her fate for being too smart!