When we first got sheep, we thought they would be an inexpensive and organic alternative to weed control, as well as provide the cuteness factor for our U-Pick blueberry operation. One year later the only thing we are sure they provided is the cuteness factor.
They certainly are an organic alternative to weed control. But it turns out they also like blueberry plants. This isn’t a problem for the older plants that have grown taller than the sheep, but for the younger bushes or new shoots growing up, it has become quite a problem. Last year we put them out in the field at the end of our U-Pick season and this year we are noticing the tips of many of the young canes were chewed off did not grow buds. Needless to say, they won’t be mowing that field this year.
Now for the economical factor. Turns out they aren’t very cheap to keep either. When we got them in July, it was pretty easy — put them out on pasture where they had plenty of grass to eat. For the most part all we had to do was setup some electro-net fencing and a $39 auto-waterer to make sure they had plenty of fresh water. That lasted until late September at which point we had to start thinking about Winter housing and care. Turns out that electro-net fencing doesn’t hold up very well in during New England Winters and as you can imagine, neither did the auto-waterer. So we needed to find alternatives.
To start, we had to have substantial fencing setup to protect the sheep from predators and prevent them from wandering. We also needed a place to protect them from the weather. Luckily we had the barn and run-in shed that had been used for cows. We just had to adjust it a bit for the sheep. Although the pasture had high-tensile fencing around the perimeter, it was only 2 strands and wasn’t going to keep the sheep in.
Welcome Northeast Farm and Fence services. They built a large woven wire fenced in area that would stand up to winter weather, predators and escapees. It was attached to the existing shed and barn making this the perfect winter home for our wooly friends. The barn also served as perfect spot to house the 280 bales of hay needed to keep our 6 sheep and 2 horses fed through the winter. Unfortunately, we forgot about water, so we spent the winter hauling buckets to the barn, hoping it would stay unfrozen long enough for the sheep to get something to drink.
Even though the sheep didn’t quite meet our naive expectations of clearing the fields at no cost, we do love them. They are very sweet and relatively easy to care for. Just more lessons learned about the realities of farming.