We eventually fenced in the South Pasture (#4 on the map from the Wednesday, 6/24/15 blog) along the roadway as well as the Pond Pasture (3), which includes not only the pond but also the waterway that feeds it. It was quite an undertaking to fence the Pond Pasture along the driveway to the house and barn, since we were concerned that our typical 7-wire fencing with two hot wires would not be able to keep the sheep in where the pasture narrows at the Sheep Barn. As a result, we used four-board fencing along the drive — much more expensive but also better able to keep sheep in under pressure.
The entire South Pasture (4) can be described as a north-facing hillside, and so it is one of the last pastures ready for our sheep in the spring. It is also the only pasture with no natural shade, so we erected a small 24’x40′ shade structure made of aluminum pipes and a shade cloth that we remove for the winter. Since the shade cloth reflects much of the sun but allows wind and air movement through, it provides a pleasant area for our sheep to spend hot summer days when in that field.
The last pasture we fenced was the Pond Pasture (3). For a very long time, we weren’t sure whether we would fence in this area at all because of the marsh and the softer ground around the pond. We built a bridge over the marsh and planted wildflowers in the area between the house and pond, thinking we might keep it for our own enjoyment. Eventually, however, we used temporary fencing to see how much damage the sheep would do to the wetland areas, and when we realized that they disturbed very little of the soil there, we fenced this last section of land for grazing.
The area includes a run-off pond that is now about twelve feet deep, at its deepest. (It was originally only a foot deep when we purchased the land, but we dug it out when we built the house.) We have stocked it with several varieties of fish, and it’s also home to many bullfrogs, spring peepers, and snapping turtles. Since the rain run-off from about 60 acres of surrounding farmland comes together and follows the diagonal of our property to feed the pond, the marsh remains quite wet for much of the spring and often even into the summer. In wet years, even the Rock Pasture contains standing water for several weeks in the spring, and during those times, the adult sheep graze the grass tips that blow in the breeze above the waterline. I am always amazed at how well they do standing in several inches of water as they graze!
The Rock Pasture eventually dries up for better footing, and often by midsummer, even the marsh is firm, dry ground. There is still much more moisture in both of these areas than in the other pastures, however, so these are wonderful places for the sheep to graze in July and August when the grass in the other pastures begins to go dormant because of the heat and lack of rain. By the time these areas are heavily grazed and needing a rest, the hillside pastures have usually returned to production and the sheep can be moved there. The combination of pastures provides a nice balance of grazing for our sheep during the entire growing season.
Although several of our pastures (East, West, and Pond) have barn access, by the time the lambs are weaned, we have locked the sheep out and they spend 24/7 outside. Sheep don’t need shelter except for winter lambing, so during the growing months, our barns are used instead for storage and other summer activities. Even when we leave a door open, the sheep seldom come in unless the weather is very bad.
In the fall, the Pond Pasture is the favorite among the ewes. Not only does it have a ready supply of water (in both the automatic waterer and the pond), but the orchard is just across the driveway — and they know that’s where their fall treats come from! We have apple, apricot, peach, pear, plum, and cherry trees, as well as grape vines and raspberry canes that produce throughout the growing season. We toss all of the fallen or damaged fruits across the drive and into the Pond pasture whenever the sheep are there. The ewes know this and love the fresh fruit. Whenever they see someone entering the orchard, they line up along the board fence and begin calling — just in case we might forget where to toss the fruit!
So now you’ve had a walk around our entire acreage! When we first bought the land, there was nothing here but some cattle, a very shallow pond, and a couple of acres of overgrown forest. It’s come a long way since then, now providing all of the feed for a fairly large flock of sheep through the entire spring through fall growing season. For us, it’s home!