At the end of the growing season each year, we stop mowing the lawn, pulling the weeds, and raking the leaves. I know this sounds like a couple of lazy people trying to find a way of avoiding work — and that might be! — but we actually have an ulterior motive. Since we’ve discovered how much our sheep enjoy a visit to the lawn around the house, every fall we close the gate at the road and, for two or three days, we let them out to enjoy whatever plants they can find before everything goes dormant for the winter.
I selectively protect some of the plants before the sheep invade. I’ve learned from experience that certain plants can’t tolerate this late-season nibbling, so I set up panels across the creeping phlox and the euonymus, and I make sure that all of the new trees have plastic protection around their trunks and the larger low-hanging branches. Once I have the hard work done, it’s simply a matter of opening a gate and calling the girls to come. The older ewes come charging across the pastures and through the garden gate, knowing that a few great days of browsing and grazing await them!
I am ever-present taking pictures. There is something really joyful in the whole experience that I try to capture each year. It seldom comes through the lens, but I still can’t stop snapping pictures as I watch my sheep happily devour various favorite plants. We chose to do this last weekend, since we knew we would be away for most of Saturday and then again on Sunday, and the dogs were at the kennel. It seemed the perfect time to let the ewes out to see what they could find, so on Friday night — just before dusk and just after Rick had left with the dogs — I threw the gates open and the girls flooded out.
As usual, the younger flock members were somewhat timid as they reached the gate. They have never been allowed into the lawn since they were born last spring, and they have often seen the dogs running there. It seemed odd and dangerous, I’m sure. They are seldom eager to come forward, but after watching their mothers and other older flock members rush out and begin eating, it usually doesn’t take long before they decide to give it a chance! Before long, you wouldn’t have known they had any reservations; they went from one new plant to the next, taking one taste after another to see what they liked and what wasn’t worth coming back for.
There are many plants that the sheep are especially pleased to see, now that the Timber has been so heavily grazed. The Timber was once overgrown with wild grapes, raspberries, blackberries, and ditch weed, but it’s now mostly grass, garden weeds (like dandelions and plantain), and some low-growing trees and shrubs. When the sheep are allowed near the house in the fall, they can once again munch on some of their favorites: grape, raspberry and fruit leaves, multiple different vines and ornamental plants that we keep in the flower beds around the house — as well as a lawn full of dandelions and fresh grass that hasn’t been sullied by manure over the past year.
So the sheep spent several happy days devouring what was left of the plantings around the house before we closed them back into the pastures. Now that they have had their fill, I can do a final mowing of the lawn, trim back the raspberries for the winter, and generally finish with our fall yard cleanup without feeling as if I’m taking food away from our flock. Besides that, they are now focused on the pumpkins — hundreds of them! — that we got from one of our local drug stores after Halloween. This time of year is full of tempting edibles!