We have had problems with the sheep learning to ignore electric netting since even with hair sheep their wool insulates them from the shock . No one else ever has this issue? Also it was very hard to "stomp down" weeds enough to not short out the fence.
Before I decided to reintroduce sheep to this farm, I asked a lot of sheep farmers about raising sheep and one said, "we used to do beef cows, but sheep are so easy compared to them." I grew up on a dairy farm and though beef was easy...until I got sheep. I got a fair amount of pastures granted, and good fences, but from April to November, we really don't even know we have them. I check on them once a month or so, but even then they don't need me for anything.
Lambing season is intense, but only because I have so many now. And seeing the lambs is worth it. We got two in the house now and its the reason we sheep farm...well maybe the money too, but lambing season is awesome because of the hands-on contact with such defenseless lambs.
posted 3 years ago
Travis...details please. What sort of fence works best? How many per acre? Do you make hay, buy it or have so much pasture they can "self harvest" the hay in winter. (Unicorn tales of farming I have heard.) How often do rotate them if you only have to check on them once a month? Like most animals, sheep stay in better if they don't see better food on the other side of the fence, any details on how to avoid that and yet have them graze it down enough to get the undesireable along with the favorite pasture plants, so the weeds don't take over? I would suppose mowing behind them?
Carrie Graham wrote:Travis...details please. What sort of fence works best? How many per acre? Do you make hay, buy it or have so much pasture they can "self harvest" the hay in winter. (Unicorn tales of farming I have heard.) How often do rotate them if you only have to check on them once a month? Like most animals, sheep stay in better if they don't see better food on the other side of the fence, any details on how to avoid that and yet have them graze it down enough to get the undesireable along with the favorite pasture plants, so the weeds don't take over? I would suppose mowing behind them?
Carrie, first off let me say that you are not alone. I had a thousand feet of the net fencing given to me and my sheep went right through it. The same for electric fencing and even a sapling type of fence I tried. I finally settled on Page Wire fencing 4 feet high. It really is not all that bad on cost. $175 for 330 feet and a few staples. You put it up once, it stays up for 30 years, no patrolling it to make sure it is not being grounded out, the sheep always stay in, the coyotes stay out. Based on all that over a 30 year life span, it is very cheap fencing.
Here in Maine, which they claim have the best pastures in the world due to rain fall, topography, soil type and climate, we can raise 10 sheep per acre, but I like to consider it 7 just in case. I don't stock my sheep nearly that heavy. I have quite a few acres so I stock my sheep at 2 acres per sheep which is nice, very few problems with parasites on account of that, but that is soon changing. With that many acres, I need far more sheep frankly, so soon we will be switching to 100% confinement so we can get the most sheep per acre.
This is Maine, so if you think stating we have the best pastures in the world was a boast, it was not I assure you. We might have good pasture during pasture season, but we also have a VERY short growing season. We do have to feed in the winter. Right now we got 18 inches of snow on the ground and 20 more coming tomorrow. There is NO WAY sheep could winter graze through that. They would consume far more calories hoofing through the snow then they would eat, not to mention it was -10 degree (f) out last night meaning they need lots of fodder. Another problem here is the land base. Only 10% of the land here is field, 90% is forest, my farm included, so we have a patchwork of small fields. My biggest field is only 37 acres in size and my smallest is 5 acres, so this is not like Gabe Brown who can graze thousands of acres of open prairie. Just moving the sheep from field to distant field would be tough! So you are right, we do hay.
As I said earlier I grew up on a dairy farm so until a few years ago I just got my feed off them. What is a truckload of silage every week to a dairy farm with 1200 cows? It made more sense just to let them use my fields, haul it to their silo, make excellent feed, and then truck back what little bit I needed for my sheep. Everyone was happy. No waste. Then the dairy farm filed for bankruptcy. The equipment was sold and then the issues with custom hay farmers started. One year first crop was not cut until August 1st, and with such a short growing season here, no chance for 2nd crop. The next year the same thing happened. Last year the guys equipment broke down and our hay got rained on. Its OKAY feed, but not great. Then the guy never showed up for 2nd crop leaving us short, so we scrambled to have another guy get 2nd crop in October...late for Maine. he did, but then proceeded to steal every bale for himself. It is pretty clear, as much as I hate to buy equipment, we are going to have to do it ourselves. I am going in a different direction, with silage instead of hay as there is less equipment to buy and not dependent on the weather as much, but it is a big expense still. That is why we are going to 100% confinement. If I have to buy equipment, I minds well feed year around and get as many sheep as I can feed. Its not as many as you think. We need to buy about 300 sheep and give us a total of around 750 sheep. I am clearing land as quick as I can so we can have more fields, but it is a slow process to make forest into field. (BTW; the custom haying was done at 50/50. Hal the hay bales went to me, and half to the haying contractor).
As for rotational grazing, you are correct in that I was not very detailed. Forgive me for my hasty reply and not truly explaining myself. Grass does not grow in a linear line; it grows fast in May, pretty darn fast in Jun, then really slows down in July and August, and creeps to a crawl in September. We typically put our sheep on pasture the second week of April here, or at least 7 out of the last 8 years I have been keeping track. In June we shear, so in those months we move sheep from pasture to pasture pretty quickly, and down to the barn for shearing, and all according to a grazing plan. (My farm has plans for everything, a grazing plan, forestry plan, comprehensive nutrient management plan, a safety plan, a disaster plan, etc). Because this grass grows quick, I put them on my smaller fields, 5, 10 and 12 acres and constantly moving them from one to another. But my big fields are growing grass for winter feed. So in that sense I was not totally truthful. I did not mean to lie, I was just thinking in the dead of summer we do no check on them much because after the 1st crop is taken of, we put the sheep on the bigger fields, and because they are pretty big, growing slow because of mid-summer heat and was not really referring to EVERY grazing month. But I did not spell that out and feel horrible that I didn't and mislead you. I try to be a honest voice on this forum. Part of all this rotation has to do with it being dairy farm fields at one time. They get paid bonuses for high protein milk, so they must cut the grass more often, 5 times a year and not 2. So they plant cool season grass. So my fields do better when it is cool, May/June and August/September...the latter being just a wee bit better then July growth, but not by much because of the latter time in the growing season.
As for your last question, I completely understand and the only answer I came up with was Page Wire fencing. They can see it, but they can't get to it!
It is a funny story. I had tried my best...like you...with temporary electric fence to rotational graze to no avail. Finally I put up a good fence along the road so they did not get hit by cars, and let them literally free-range (no fences) on my farm. It is situated as such that other then a half-mile of roadway, the rest is open field and goes into woods, which of course the sheep would never go into. So the USDA guy shows up after I have called everyone and their brother to help get good fencing here and get nothing but , "sorry, that is a capital cost that a farmer has to pay himself", looks at my sheep and says, "so what are you doing to keep them rotational grazing?" I said, "Not a thing, I can't afford fencing to keep them in", so he says, "well we'll pay for that", and the that was when they paid for my Page Wire fencing. I got 1000 feet of that electronet fencing too, but that never worked, so a neighbor...sweet as can be, was up against it and so I let her borrow it. She made it work because that was all she had, but after a few years of her picking it up in the spring and dropping it off, I said "just take it". It was given to me, so she could have it. By then I had grown to enough sheep so cross-dividing my fields surrounded by Page Wire no longer made sense. Now I just move them according to the sward in the field, and not cross-divided paddocks.
[size=12]I am also very new to this forum, as I was reading the postings and wanting to do this, first I would like to get the land ready for rotational grazing, the right size paddocks, the right grasses, irrigation, the right goat (milk/meat)... how do I go about preparing the land and getting the right vegetation.... how many paddocks are needed? I am looking for about 4-6 goats. [/size]
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