Last night and today, we have been receiving some much needed and prayed for rain. The area I am in has been in a drought all summer, no rain. Rain is what we depend on to water our pastures as there is no irrigation type systems in this area. No one irrigates or uses farm sprinklers to water their fields and pastures. Rainfall is very important.
I am many things, but my main occupation is being a sheep farmer. I raise Dorper sheep for market lamb. I enjoy this occupation of caring for the sheep. Being a sheep farmer is more than just taking care of sheep. I have to manage the pasture and other resources in order to care the sheep and make a profit.
One of those resources is my pasture. When we first purchased our small homestead, the pasture had been overgrazed. There was way more weeds than grass, and large bare areas of dirt. Not much feed for the horses we were raising at the time. Building up a pasture that has been overgrazed takes time, there is no quick fix.
Our lives took a change, we sold the horses and I became a sheep farmer. In the beginning as a sheep farmer, I did not have very many sheep, five to seven. Sheep love to eat weeds, 70 % of their preferred diet is weeds and brush. I had plenty of both when I started raising sheep. As the sheep grazed the weeds, not allowing the weeds to produce seeds and replant, my pasture starting changing. The weeds being controlled by the sheep allowing more moisture and sunlight for grass, the grass started growing and spreading. Today, my pasture is mostly grass, the few weeds I do have are weeds sheep and other livestock do not eat.
This spring we did not get the usual amount o rainfall. The summer was dry, no rainfall and heat. The grass in the pasture became tan, short, dry and had stopped growing. In July, I stopped grazing the sheep on the pasture, and kept them in pens with limited grazing around the sheds and house. I did not want to overgraze the pasture and stress or kill the grass I had managed to build up. I was able to water the grass around the sheds and house using the water from our well. This week, I stopped grazing the sheep totally. The grass around the sheds and house were not able to keep up with the sheep. I did not want to overgraze this area either.
Being a sheep farmer is more than just taking care of the sheep, it is managing the resources needed to care for the sheep. My sheep pens are placed on a hillside above the pasture. When we do receive rain, the water naturally sheds to the pasture. As the water moves through the pens, it becomes a manure tea, fertilizing the grass in the pasture. The past few years, there has developed a darker green and more lush grass nearer the sheep pens than in the back of the pasture. The darker green grass area has been growing large each year.
When I clean out my sheep pens, I compost the manure for more than 30 days, usually a few months, before applying it to the pasture. Letting the manure compost helps with internal parasite in the sheep, not allowing the larva to infect the sheep. After thirty days, if the larva have not been introduced into a sheep’s system, the larva dies.
Having the sheep pens on a hillside allows for faster draining and drying of the sheep pens, than the rest of the property. Keeping the sheep pens drained helps to prevent footrot, a bacterial infection of the sheep hoof that destroys the hoof. The placement of pens and shelters is also a management decision for a sheep farmer.
Yes, we have received a little bit of rain, but this will not break the drought. This little bit of rain will give the grass a breath of life. The pasture will take more rain, and time to rebuild from the stress of the drought before I can have the sheep graze it once more. I will continue to feed the sheep hay in their pens until spring arrives. I am managing my pasture to feed the ewes and lambs this spring and next year. If I overgraze or let the sheep graze too soon, I will hinder and possible destroy the work of the past few years to build up and improve my pasture.