Thursday, June 30, 2011

Closing the Loop: Sheep

Caring for sheep was never on our radar when we thought about homesteading. We were excited to just have chickens. Mark was a paid solo singer for a Christian Scientist church. One Sunday, Evan and I were waiting for him in the nursery with another parent. I was knitting. The other parent said," So you like to knit, do you spin?" I said "Yes I spin but I am still a novice." "Would you like some sheep? We'll give you our sheep."

And so we had sheep. Three, sorta wild, shetlands. We built them a shed and then a barn. We bought a solar electric portable fence. Mark took a shearing class offered through the cooperative extension.We chased them around the yard plenty of times. They mowed our lawn for us and we had a source of manure for the garden.

Since those first three sheep came to live with us we have been given more sheep. Mostly elderly sheep who needed a retirement home. I have used their fiber. Mark has earned income from shearing. Our compost pile is rich in sheep poop. According to the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening by J.I. Rodale, each ewe can provide a ton of manure. They will clean up overgrown areas. But when I think about closing the loop the sheep have to be an integral part of our homestead. The sheep need outside inputs in the form of feed, hay, some mineral feed to supplement those minerals that are not available in our Maine soils and diatomaceous earth; for preventing parasites. In the last closing the loop post I discussed how we are growing mangle-wurzel beets as one source of winter fodder. For now, we will buy hay from some farming friends. But long term we would like be able to grow some of our winter hay. This year we will plant a pasture mix of grass in the orchard

In the summer the sheep graze on our yard. In past years we have simply moved the portable fence around the yard wherever there was tall grass;which is most of the time because we do not mow, much;) This year Mark puts the girls out on pasture and scythes up grass for the boys. The boys do not go graze too much because Leroy Brown goat is more of a garden/orchard pest (he jumps the fence).

The girls grazing is a little more intentional now that we have an orchard to maintain. One key to good orchard maintenance is keeping a clean orchard. A clean orchard is less likely to be a source of disease and pests. So our ladies' fence is put under the trees. They eat up any fallen leaves. After fruit has set small apples fall to the ground. These small apples become a source for the larva of an insect that lays its eggs in the fallen fruit and then as a mature insect infest the mature fruit. The sheep also fertilize the trees at this time. In this way we do not need to bring in outside inputs to control this pest or feed the trees.

Our girls are getting old. We are thinking that next spring we may get a lamb or two. One of the considerations for these lambs will be that they will be a breed that can provide both fiber and meat. In this way the sheep will be integrated into our food chain; another loop we hope to close.


Jennie said...

I've been thinking about loops in relation to chickens lately. I want to get some, but on our suburban plot we can't grow much of their feed or bedding. They would close a couple of loops in the garden, but the other inputs the chickens would need would outweigh that benefit I think.
Maybe if I can find a local producer of chicken feed.....

I'm so interested in fiber right now. I'm almost done with my first scarf. Do you spin with a wheel or with the spool-bobbin type thing?

Kelly said...

I love the idea of the loop. We have Icelandic sheep. Beautiful double fiber and great meat animals. I have just purchased a spinning wheel and can't wait to start. Good luck.

Fleecenik Farm said...

Jennie, chickens are a great homestead animal to have. They eat most food scraps, garden scraps, slugs. You can also grow sunflowers for them. You may not be able to provide all of their feed but you would be amazed at how much you can provide for them.

I also spin with both a wheel and spindle. But it is not my passion, like knitting. Someday I hope it will be because it is such a quiet endeavor. This year we hope to felt some of our fleeces. When I do that I will post our results.