Like a walk through the country side living on a small farm is full of daily surprises, sometimes wonderful and amazing, and other times puzzling and sad. I hope you will walk with me as I live out my dream of living on this tiny farm. You will come to know the dogs, cats, Shetland sheep and chickens that make up this farm and what goes into keeping them happy and healthy. Come and join the journey with me.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mowing, Mowing, Mowing....

Three Generations of Mowers--front to back--Grandam Willow, Grandson Orion and Daughter Luna

Yes, I know, that is the sheep's job. They do pretty good at it too. But several times a summer, it becomes necessary for me to 'tidy' everything up. While the sheepies mow and trim almost all species of grass, weeds and trees, there are a few they won't touch.

I've been rotating all three sheep groups through three separate pasture areas. By utilizing the area between my house and the road, and in front of the house, I've been able to extend the pasture a little longer.

This is how I've been working it. Blue and Lanny (merino ram and wether) have three smallish paddocks. At first I can make two of the paddocks last two weeks each and the third a week. However by this time of the year, they will only last a week each or less. I will be feeding them hay within about three weeks. Jeff and Cal (Shetland ram and wether) are located away from the ewes and down towards the side and front of the farm. They have a small elongated paddock where their barn is, plus four separate smaller paddocks that extend across the front of the acreage and onto my parents land. I also can turn them out on the front area at night when needed. Always hoping that no one will feel the need to open the gate and walk up my driveway in the night! For two little sheep this is way too much grass for them to stay ahead of in the spring. So that brings me to the largest, most ravenous group of sheep---the ewes and lambs. They never get full. I keep them on the larger upper pasture for most of the winter and early spring. Meanwhile the lower pasture is growing (hopefully). A few weeks before I turn them out on the lower field, I will start turning them out in the evening on the sections in front of and to the side of my yard. (My yard is fenced in, thankfully). I do the same when its time to put them back on the upper pasture. This way they get everything 'mowed' and also give more time for the main fields to grow, and get used to being on new grass. This year, I even let them out on one of the Shetland rams rotation paddocks, as it was growing so fast. Once they have cleaned up every morsel that they will, I'll turn them out on the 'real pasture'. Sheep are very much like after-Thanksgiving Shoppers on Black Friday. Turning them out on fresh pasture causes fights, stampedes, pushing, shoving and often destruction of the very grass they are suppose to eat. They don't think about tomorrow--they leave that to their aghast shepherd. The first several days on the new pasture (and I'm talking about limited grazing times), they will run about and sample all the goodies. The next day, all the 'candy' gets eaten. Third day they start getting down to business. After that they will eat, in this order---any tree limbs or sprouts within reach, anything you don't want eaten, tasty weeds, grass, and finally they will go back and begrudgingly trim up anything they missed earlier, that they think is edible. After that its time to move them on to new grazing.

There is a drawback to this though, as it makes the ewe flock more restless and noisy. They are constantly watching my every move, thinking I am going to let them out on fresh pasture. The girls adore fresh pasture. Even if they are on good fields, it still takes a week or so before they settle back into calmness and quietude.

As soon as the sheep are taken off a field, this is where my stinky, temperamental, gas guzzling mower comes into play. It's important to get right out there and do any mowing I want done, so the pasture will have time for regrowth before the sheep are rotated back onto it. This is when any tall growth, thistles (that have escaped my chopping tool), and weeds get cut back. The sheep won't eat long tough vegetation. They might trample it, but they won't get much nutritional good out of it! When I mow these little pastures, I will check for and chop thistles and also seed any bare areas.

Normally by this time, it would be futile to seed grass, but with all the wet weather, the seed takes right off and flourishes. Once the pasture is mown, seeds sown, and thistles chopped, I always experience a deep feeling of satisfaction. In these moments, I feel like this is what I was meant to do. For just a moment I feel like I'm almost a real farmer. :-)


Nancy K. said...

Your pasture rotation system sounds very similar to mine. My girls also rush into fresh pasture as if they're starved! Although, I don't usually see any fighting ~ they're usually MUCH too busy picking out the very best tender shoots....

I also mow when I move the flock. Partially to cut back the stuff they obviously don't like but mostly because I love how nice it looks when everything is even!


Kathleen from Eggs In My Pocket said...

I just love to look at your pictures! Have a wonderful holiday weekend, blessings, Kathleen

Tammy said...

Nancy--I agree--it always looks so pretty when everything is mowed up nicely. The sheepies do a pretty good job, but there are obvious places where something just wasn't tasty.
Thank you! I'm glad you stop by.