Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Even Sheep Have Jobs on the Homestead

Hilda, Mac, Etta and Ian
Our sheep have three main jobs on the homestead. First and foremost they are here to perform fire mitigation by keeping the grasses under control.  The West is known for its cycles of drought, fire and flood and we are definitely moving into another drought cycle. In the 23+ years we have lived in this high elevation valley the mountain range that defines the valley’s western border has had four forest fires. Three of those fires, in 1993, 2011 and 2016, have come knocking on our door. 

Forest fires are a part of the ecology of western forests but their nature is changing due in part to the changing climate and to past fire suppression which completely altered the dynamics of the forest. In the past the fires would rarely burn more than 500 acres; this summer’s fire consumed nearly 18,000 acres in the blink of an eye.

For now our sheep will be grazing in the areas where we don’t want cattle – around the house, in close up pasture areas, along roadways, and in riparian zones. By rotating through these areas their impacts are limited to light grazing, minimal soil disturbance, and natural fertilizing.

Hilda, I see you!
Our sheepie’s second job goes hand in hand with their grazing – helping us build healthy soils. Grazing, light soil disturbance and manure pellets are the keys to recycling nutrients back into the soil to feed the microorganisms that nourish the soil and feed the plants. While some people consider purchased hay as an expensive input, we see it as additional nutrients that are recycled through the sheep and spread on the pastures.

Etta's 2016 fleece
And their third job – well that’s the beautiful wool they produce which when spun into yarn will feed my desire to be creative. For years I’ve wanted to learn to weave. Now I have the wool makers.

Beautiful Shetland yarn from OK Acres, WI