I thought it might be fun to take our readers on a farm tour. I often write about the activities in one or more of our pastures, but I realize that for many of you, exactly where that pasture lies within the framework of the farm is not clear. As a result, I’ll lay out our acreage in the next few blogs, using a combination of words and photos to give you a clearer mental image of our farm.
When we bought our acreage in 1995, there was nothing here except an overgrown section in the west and a very shallow pond in the SE corner. There are two ridges: one runs across the NE corner (from the upper left corner of the area marked 2 to the top right corner of the area marked 1) and another runs along the southern boundary at the road (the bottom edges of fields 7, 6, and 4). A low area runs diagonally between the NW corner and the pond, creating a marsh between the SE (lower right) corner of pasture 5 and the pond. We found very early on that this topography acts as a wind tunnel, channeling the prevailing west and north winds through the low area almost constantly and helping to keep us and our livestock cool in the summer.
Our first project was to run a fence line between our acreage and our neighbors to the north. At about the same time, we built our house and moved our family in. Our animal count sat at two: one dog and one cat. After a few years of completing indoor projects and working on landscaping in the area immediately around the house, we decided to build a barn (sitting to the NE of the house and now known as the Storage Barn) and to fence in two pastures, now known as the East Pasture (1) and the West Pasture (2). We also built two paddocks between them that we use to this day: the Lower Paddock and the Upper Paddock, which sit between the two pastures to the west of the barn (the Upper Paddock was eventually divided into two halves for the rams). This work was completed with the idea of keeping a couple of horses and perhaps a few sheep — the latter largely for “mowing” purposes. Little did I know what the future would hold!
We bought the horses and a few sheep, and then increased our flock when it became obvious that we needed more sheep to keep up with the plentiful supply of grass. We eventually decided on purebred Romney sheep, and the flock grew to 20-25 ewes and miscellaneous rams.
In 2007, we diversified our flock by bringing in a small group of Romeldale/CVM sheep to provide our customers with fine-wool fleeces in addition to our medium- and long-wool Romneys. Although we have fenced in more pastures in the ensuing years and now graze the entire acreage, the original two pastures are still among our rotation. Because they have been used the longest, the grazing there is a bit different than in the other fields — primarily bluegrass, clover, and dandelions in the old growth areas.
When we added the Sheep Barn a few years ago to store our alfalfa hay and to better house our sheep during lambing, the area immediately around the barn in the West Pasture needed to be seeded to hold the newly exposed soil in place. This has been the only area of our acreage that we have seeded, other than spot-seeding from the seeds I carry in my pockets in spring. This means that the West Pasture again contains a wide variety of plant life, including patches of alfalfa and various grasses. How long they will last is anyone’s guess, but the sheep definitely love the variety.
The East Pasture is our smallest pasture — and knowing what I know now, I would have made it much bigger (about double its current size). Because it is so small and we want to avoid overgrazing, we use it only for very short periods or with very small groups of sheep. With its south-facing hillside, it dries out rapidly during drought, so is most often used during rainy parts of the year like spring and fall. By simply keeping a gate open, both the East and West Pastures have the advantage of access to an automatic waterer for the sheep in both the upper and lower paddocks. Both of these first pastures also allow for barn access, so they’re often used in the early spring when the lambs still need the shelter of the barn during cold and wet spring days.
Because our lambs are in these pastures early in life, they very much enjoy each return as they cycle through the pasture rotation. They know all of the best grazing and the fun play areas (like the manure piles in the West Pasture and the base of the antenna tower in the East Pasture). It’s obvious that they feel at home, and they are often seen playing on the piles, lounging beneath the mulberry tree, or playing peek-a-boo with friends through the Storage Barn windows.
These original two pastures got us started on our sheep adventure, and they’re the most visible to any farm visitors. They nearly encircle the house and barns, so people coming to the farm get an up-close view of the sheep grazing there — and I love the fact that I can see them grazing from the house too! With the next blog, we’ll move west to take a closer look at the Rock Pasture, the Timber, and the Fire Circle Pasture.