Sunday, May 10, 2009

Raising All Natural Sheep

The raising of all-natural sheep goes back to Bible times. King David, author of the Psalms, took his sheep to new pastures where they could find fresh, untrampled grass and other 'herbs' to eat, which gave them all the nutrients that were needed, as well as fresh water to drink (leading them 'beside the still waters' -- a very calming effect for both animal and man).
Fencing appears to be the biggest obstacle facing the farmer who wants to raise his animals in a natural method. A good fence around the periphery of the property to be grazed, is a must ... not so much as to restrain the sheep, but to protect them from outside harm. Once the outside fence is established, dividing the property into sections -- and the fence needed to divide -- is not quite as demanding. Should the animal 'escape' one section, it would simply find itself in the next enclosure.
The most preferable amount of paddocks (sections) should be at least ten (12 is best!). This would allow for an approximate 2 week rest period before the animal returned to it. (see future posts on reasons why!). Each paddock does not have to be a perfect size or the same size. The sheep do not care - just give them the grass to graze!
Sheep should be moved every 1-2 days, depending on the number of sheep and land conditions and, preferably in the evening. While flies are not as big a problem for wool sheep, they can still be a nuisance. However, when the flies 'go to bed', it takes a while the next morning for them to 'find' the sheep. This creates a natural, healthy atmosphere, and also helps keep the animal at its peak performance and satisfied. The sheep will thank you!
A second consideration is providing water and shade to each paddock. If you are dealing with only a small amount of animals, carrying buckets of water probably would not be unfeasible. For larger numbers of sheep, laying 3/4" PVC piping on top of the ground to each paddock, could be an option. (This arrangement, however, would only work in milder climates, or summer months in harsher climates.) The PVC would not be so large that the animal could not step over it. In a perfectly laid-out pasture (certainly not my farm!), burying the pipe to the necessary frost-free line (check with local extension office if not known), would be the most ideal.
If your farm allows, a watering system placed in the middle of a field, with the paddocks going out as spokes on a wheel, the center being the watering trough, would simplify the above.
Providing shelter/shade could be as simple as placing a tarp up to block the afternoon sun. Planting a few fast growing trees or evergreens in each paddock would be ideal. As one might guess, protecting the newly planted tree with its own mini-fence would be a must until the seedling was established and of enough height not to be demolished by hungry sheep (or deer!).
I have been farming naturally for about 12 years now. I wouldn't change that for anything. The benefits to the animal, its wool, the land and finally the meat that comes to your table, is well worth whatever extra work that might appear on the surface.
I will in future posts be describing what I have done and learned from my experiences in raising sheep with natural practices.
Thanks! for your time ... I know it is a precious commodity! Diane
"... He maketh me to lie down in green pastures ..." Psalm 23

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