Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shepherd's Corner: Pasturing

We are about to move into the time of year where we are rotating the sheep very quickly from pasture to pasture.  In our idealized farm management system, our sheep would be moving from one pasture to another on a daily basis or atleast on a weekly basis when we are grazing un-fenced areas.  Right now, we are rehabilitating and replacing many old "hard" fences.  These are the fences that are made of a metal mesh and/or barbed wire.  Some of our fences include the barbed wire if we can salvage it from the previous fence while others have a strand or two of electric wire.  In areas of tougher terrain or that are not part of a larger fenceable pasture, we use a four-wire electric fence to keep sheep where they are supposed to be.

We rotate pastures for a number of reasons; first is that forage during the dry season is at a premium and must be used wisely.  Moving quickly from one pasture to another reduces the amount of forage that is lost to trampling when the sheep walk in search of their favorite grasses.  Another prime reason is fertility.  By rotating pastures, manure is spread across the pastures evenly and with zero labor input by us.  We also do not have any runoff from too much manure because the sheep are never in any pasture long enough to leave “too much” manure.  The soils have plenty of time to absorb what the sheep leave behind.  By rotating, we are increasing the amount of forage available to us as well as increasing the fertility of the pastures under our charge!

We also reduce our labor inputs by rotating because we are allowing the sheep to harvest their own feed.  The only hay that we need to move from field to barn and then into feeding racks is hay for winter through early spring when grasses cannot be found under snow and when the ground is so wet and cold and not yet growing that sheep would merely starve and tear apart pastures.  On the Palouse, this still ends up being 4-6 months of the year, depending on spring and fall weather patterns.  This is great for us, because we don't have to spend as many labor hours on the sheep and it reduces the cost of lamb and wool that we produce.  We pass these kinds of savings on to you as our customer.

Now, looking at our prices, this may not seem like a whole lot of savings.  Remember however, that we have little mechanization to ease any labor loads, and that we don't charge at our prices because we can.  We charge the prices we do because we are covering all of our costs.  Take wool for example.  Even 100% wool yarns and products might be less expensive than what our products might cost.  On the other hand, many wool producers are not even covering what it costs to have wool sheared from their sheep!  Our wool and lamb prices reflect the costs and labor involved in producing these items.  When you buy woll or lamb from our flock, you can rest assured that we will be there in the future to provide you with more wool and more lamb because we covered our costs today.

Stewardship of our land begins with stewardship of our economy and our community.

1 comment:

  1. Cool! I'm moving back to Newcastle in September and will have to try to make a fall trip to Pullman to see your farm!