|shepherd with attitude||
......as we move beyond the autumn equinox and gradually see plant life dying back, its a good time to reflect on how the new grazing system has worked so far... I haven't 'measured anything in terms of quantities, growth etc, but from my own and various others observations the main outcomes have been that the grass has grown to a longer length, and with more species of herbage/flowers in it. In addition the sheep and cows have looked and seemed generally fitter, healthier and calmer. Sorting and selling lambs earlier this week, one thing that struck me was how similar sized (a good size) they were. Usually there would be a handful of smaller, weaker lambs at this time of year) Less positive observations are that the sheep/lambs still required dosing with chemicals to treat internal parasites, (though the cows needed none). In addition, some of the sheep have started jumping over dry stone walls to move into the next field in the rotation. Disability caused by injury has also meant I haven't been able to maintain managing the grazing system over the last month or so, meaning the sheep have had access to 4 different fields at the same time.
So, the plan for the 'winter' (pagan/farming winter..when the grass stops growing ...ie from now), is to continue to move the sheep weekly, but to use an electric fence to back up the wall boundaries. About 30% of the land cant be used over the winter (due to fast flowing becks), and this increases to 60% in snow (deep drifts). This still leaves 3-4 separate fields though, with less sheep (the lambs have been sold now) and I will be using the cows on some of the land alongside the sheep as a 'flerd' Over all the results of the new system feel very encouraging and exciting and next summer (after lambing) I will start the new growing season by recording some specific measurements/species of plant/health of animals etc, to be continued throughout the year.
So in the 4 weeks since my new grazing plan began, I've really noticed now much calmer the flock seems in general. In the past at this time of year the sheep would be left on the same land for about 3 months now, only being disturbed for clipping time, so very much out the habit of having human contact. However now they are being moved to new pasture each week, (and observed in the field daily) they have become much tamer and have quickley got used to the moving routine, realising that there is a treat (fresh pasture) after being moved. The sheep look physically well, their fleece is 'lifting' ready for clipping, they have no evidence or internal parasites or lameness.
So the initial plan is to move the flock onto fresh ground every week. I've divided the land into 8 'blocks' of roughly similar sizes but quite varied in terms of type and condition of land. Some of the land can't be used in poor weather (access during snow/heavy rain becomes impossible with a wide beck to cross), so the plan is a flexible one. Each day I'm checking the health and contentment of the sheep, along with how the land is looking. I anticipate that the first few months, and probably at least the first year will be very much trial and error, so regular observations are going to be vital to ensure neither land or animals suffer.
I'll be writing more about why I have chosen this style of grazing management in a future post...but so far all good
1st June 2013, and after much thought, debate, doubt and now excitement, today I am starting a new system of the way I use animals to graze the land here. This is of course part of the bigger picture of using permaculture design to guide and influence my farming work (and life in general). Prior to today the sheep have spent most of the year grazing a series of fields amounting to about 100 acres in total, spending about 10 months on the same grass. For the last 2 years, (after replacing fencing to make the land secure), for the other 2 months the flock has grazed another 30 acre or so area of land, which is difficult to access in the winter. The Grazing Diaries aim to document and explore the new grazing system.