Our ewes are on their last round through our pastures, and as they leave each field, I “put the pasture to bed” for the winter. I mow each field off, leaving little cover to harbor parasites and allowing the cold north winds to kill off as many of them as possible when the temps finally drop below zero.
As part of this final post-breeding rotation for the ewes, we include the lawn as a special treat. I stop mowing the area around the house and through the orchard around late September (depending on weather), and I use 40″ tall welded panels to protect special plants that cannot survive the sheep’s “heavy pruning.” I plan the ewes’ time on the lawn before the grape and raspberry leaves drop, since they consider both of these a delicacy. We make sure each of the pasture gates is closed, as well as the gate to the road at the end of our drive. I need only stand at any gate that gives them access to the yard and begin to call them to me. As soon as the first adult ewe raises her head and looks to me, she knows exactly why I am calling — and they all come running! They look forward to “lawn time” every fall as part of the passing of the seasons! They pour through the small four-foot gates like a flood of sheep, a large single entity narrowing as needed to funnel through.
The ewe lambs are a bit confused, since they are not normally allowed into the yard or orchard. It usually takes a bit of coaxing to get them to understand that this is an exception. There are no dogs, no threats, and lots of food! Because of our working dogs, we cannot give the ewes access 24/7, even for a few days. I let them out after the dogs run in the morning, and leave them to forage for most of the day before I call them back in for their mid-afternoon rest-and-cud back in the pasture — just in time for the dogs to come out for their afternoon exercise. It’s all perfectly timed, and I find that after a day or two, the ewes come to know the routine and return to the pasture as soon as they are finished eating.
Some of the ewes are more comfortable in this area outside of their normal pastures than others — after all, it is normally the domain of the humans and dogs! Yet there are girls who surprise us with their familiarity. This afternoon as I was priming the chicken coop for painting tomorrow, January and Kali decided to visit Rick in the garage to see what he was up to. They were perfectly comfortable visiting in this very human area, checking out all the tools and seeming right at home — but then again, I often think that both January and Kali believe they ARE human!
The older ewes know that the best forage is at the side of the garage, with raspberries on either side of the walkway and grape vines sandwiched between the raspberries and the chicken coop. It’s a tight space, and the big ewes generally block the arbor access, making sure they get their fill of leaves before they let any other ewes in!
The youngest flock members don’t seem to mind being left out of the raspberry patch — instead they enjoy the raised beds that cover part of the hillside behind the garage. Not only can they hop and climb to the higher beds, but level by level, they can end up on top of our compost bins, nibbling on the wild grape vines that cover our wood house (a small shelter for our firewood)! It is not only nutritious, but good fun and great exercise!
There are advantages to having the sheep out on the lawn. Our girls act as pretty good leaf vacuums, sucking up the many leaves that we used to have to gather up ourselves. They also do a nice job pruning the grape vines that will need a more formal trim in the spring. When they are finished with the area, I remove the panels, cut back the raspberry canes, and give it a final mowing. With that, the lawn is ready for winter — and winter will be here before we know it.
Skirting progress: I have continued skirting our market lamb fleeces and hope to have them ready to release to our customers in the next week or so – I should have a firm date and approximate time by Monday, November 7. Thanks for your patience!