More on Rotational Grazing

Our rotational grazing system as settled into a pleasing routine, understood by both humans and animals.  With the addition of our new flock of Royal White sheep, we found that each small paddock is grazed much faster than the four days it took with fewer animals.  Who could have predicted such a thing?

The beauty of the rotational grazing is that it doesn’t matter – we just move them more often.  Constant monitoring is teaching us a lot about our animals – which types of grasses they like best for example.  When moved to a new paddock, they will initially explore, grabbing a bite here and there as they go.  Once they have become familiar with the space, they’ll settle down to graze in earnest, cropping favorite grasses low to the ground quickly.  By the second night they are eating the grasses that are edible but less preferred.  Most paddocks have been grazed thoroughly after 48 hours these days and they let me know when they think it is time to move, by standing and bellowing at me whenever they see me.  If I agree with them (and generally I do), I get out the back-up fence, set up a new paddock (which takes about 20 minutes), fill a new bucket of water, and then open the fence between the old and new paddocks.  They watch me work, bellowing encouragement (or so I like to believe – in reality I’m sure I’m being told to “Hurry up, Wench”) and when I move to let them through, they are quick to run into the new area and start exploring.

Having secured them in the new paddock, I take down the old fence and then mow the area.  This is to cut down grasses and weeds they won’t eat.  Our hope is that over time, by cutting down what they won’t eat, we will allow the grasses they do eat to out-compete the weeds, improving our pastures, at the same time we are controlling parasites by the frequent moves.

The difference between the ungrazed area in the foreground, and a paddock where 10 sheep and 4 goats have spent 48 hours, is astounding

The difference between the ungrazed area in the foreground, and a paddock where 10 sheep and 4 goats have spent 48 hours, is astounding.

Standing within the old paddock and looking toward an area not yet grazed. The line between the two is easy to see

Standing within the old paddock and looking toward an area not yet grazed. The line between the two is easy to see.

Last, our old friends, the dung beetles. 12 hours before this photo was taken, this was a pile of poop. Overnight it was transformed into a pile of dirt - and was one of many found in the old paddock the day after we moved them. We are thrilled to have them, knowing that by desiccating the pile of poop, they are rendering it inhospitable to parasite eggs and larva

Last, our old friends, the dung beetles. 12 hours before this photo was taken, this was a pile of poop. Overnight it was transformed into a pile of dirt – and was one of many found in the old paddock the day after we moved them. We are thrilled to have them, knowing that by desiccating the pile of poop, they are rendering it inhospitable to parasite eggs and larva.

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Royal White Sheep

Our introduction to sheep, while comical, was not particularly well thought out.  In our defense, we only planned to raise them for a few months and then send them all to the butcher.  It wasn’t until close to butcher time that it occurred to us that by the time we bought lambs each spring and paid for processing each fall, the lamb meat was rather expensive.  So instead we kept the ewes, acquired a ram, and raised our own lambs each year.

The problem with those original sheep is that they are wool breeds, which requires that we get someone in to shear them.  Shearing is not as oft-practiced a skill these days, as it once was, so finding a shearer is not easy and finding one close by even less so.  And, since we have no interest in processing the wool, the by-product has no value to us.

Had we known we’d be doing this long-term and done our research, we’d have discovered that in addition to the traditional wool sheep, there are multiple breeds of “hair” sheep available.  Hair sheep shed like a dog or a goat; in other words, they are the perfect solution for a small homestead.

After much deliberation on the various breeds of hair sheep, we settled on Royal Whites.  This is a new breed, having been developed only about 25 years ago, by crossing two other breeds of hair sheep – St. Croix and White Dorper.  The result is a sheep that is naturally polled (hornless), has hair that resembles a goat more than a sheep, grows into a decent sized butcher lamb, has good mothering ability, is naturally parasite resistant and needs little in the way of hoof care.

Settling on a breed is easy.  Finding them not so much.  Being a new breed there are still relatively few of them and I had to travel some distance to acquire them.  But they are here now and we are thrilled with them so far.  We have 4 ewes and a ram, which takes our total flock number to 10, as we still have 5 of our wool ewes.  The Royal White ram will breed all 9 ewes but our plan is to send lambs out of the wool ewes to the butcher.  Lambs out of the Royal White ewes can be butchered but, since Royal Whites are in high demand and I am the only person in our state who currently has them, they may be sold to local sheep farmers.

Royal White ewes

Royal White ewes center and right, with a traditional wool ewe on the left

One of the new ewes

One of the new ewes

Seasonal Meals

Throughout the year, what we eat varies based on what we are producing.  Summer is obviously prime time for fresh food and we find it most satisfying to eat meals that comprise 90% or more ingredients produced right here on the homestead.  Dinner today is one of our favorites.  I should give the dish a proper name but for now we call it Scrambled Tomato, Zucchini and Onion.  If you have a better idea for a name, please leave it in the comments below!

I start by dicing a freshly pulled onion and sauté it in fat rendered from our poultry.  Once it is softened, I add diced zucchini.  I grow multiple varieties – traditional long green zukes, round 8-ball, and yellow squash – so which squash is used varies according to which most needed picking.  For added color, I like to use all three if I can.  While the zucchini cooks, I dice tomatoes.  Once again I grow multiple varieties and whichever was the ripest gets added to the dish.

As the veggies continue to sauté, I crack eggs – 8-10 of them! – into a bowl, scramble, then pour over the top of the vegetables.  Flipping and mixing, the eggs cook quickly and once cooked, the meal is ready.  Staying true to using only ingredients we have produced, I season with freshly picked herbs but, if I’m feeling lazy I have been known to season with salt and pepper.

Scrambled tomato, zucchini and onion.  The eggs are almost cooked so the meal is almost ready to eat.

Scrambled tomato, zucchini and onion. The eggs are almost cooked so the meal is almost ready to eat.