It’s been a while since we’ve updated our blog. It’s amazing how time flies!
The flock has relocated to spring pastures, but before they departed the ewes were sheared. Their thick wool has done a excellent job of keeping themselves and their lambs warm and dry through an exceptionally long, cold and wet winter, but with summer temperatures fast approaching, it simply had to go. Since our flock is raised for their meat and their fiber is of below average quality, we simply donate the wool to students who “spin” in exchange for a little hands-on help with the harvesting of the wool. Sheep shearing is always a spectacle, but we had a good turnout and the weather was pecularly cooperative. While a lone professional sheep shearer could have accomplished (and probaly done a better job) in an hour or two what took nearly a dozen of us an entire day, we got the job done.
After shearing the flock was moved to summer pastures and we are proud to report they are doing great! While the individual attention the lambs needed early in life has definetly decreased as they are better able to fend for themselves, it doesn’t mean our work is over just yet. We stay busy checking and moving waterers, moving fences, monitoring health, and observing behaviour, but perhaps the most challenging of these tasks is managing the pasture.
As you may know, we practice rotational or Managment Intensive Grazing (MIG). While this system is proven effective, it is by no means simple. Essentially our goal is to match the growth cycle of the grass (which varies tremendously from day to day and paddock to paddock) with the nutritional needs of the flock. This requires that we move the flock every few days to one of approximately 4-8 smaller sections of pasture or “paddocks”. If we wait too long to move them we risk “overgrazing” the area and severely impacting the health of the grass stand and its abilty to regrow rapidly. On the other hand, if we move them too early we will leave perfectly grass behind to age and become less palatable. To do this well takes a tremendouse amount of time and knowledge.
For comparison most coventional sheep operations will transition their lambs to feedlots at this stage where they will be confined in one area and fed a high-concentrate diet (grain) to speed their growth. Historically, this has made good economic sense, but with skyrocketing grain prices (tied to the price of oil) and increasing consumer demand for grass-fed/grass finished products, our grass-based system is looking better all the time.