Our small sheep farm has two parts – a hardscrabble, hill farm in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire we call Winters’ Light Farm and our seven acres of prime farmland and barns located below the house in the floodplain here in Canterbury that we call Merrimack Riverland Farm. The conservation easement on Riverland mandates organic farming practices.
James, our chief shepherd, moves the flock daily to new grass (and shade on the hot days) around our hill farm. That is, we practice rotational grazing. Moving the flock to a patch of grass just large enough to feed them for a day tends to cause the grass to grow back faster, making the most of our forage. It also helps manage internal parasites, a long-standing problem in sheep, as the sheep keep moving, leaving them behind.
We manage the flock as organically as possible, resorting to antibiotics if and only if someone falls ill. We also control parasites with Grazer’s Choice, a mixture of salt, minerals and diatomaceous earth, all natural supplements. Occasionally, we need to dose one or another member of the flock with a conventional de-wormer, but not often. That individual is then not considered organically raised.
We raise Ramboulliet sheep, a fine-wool breed that is cousin to the better-known Merino, with an eye toward selling our own yarn. Ramboulliet are rare on the East Coast, although common on the dry ranges in the western United States. They are lovely creatures, but exceptionally skittish.
Lucy tends to get most involved when lambs arrive – helping to establish nursing and bottle-feeding, if necessary – and to take custody of the shorn fleeces.
Our long-range plan is to over-winter the flock in our barn in the Monadnock Region (which is not in a floodplain), graze the sheep there in the spring, and then bring the flock to Canterbury in the summer to graze, returning home again in the Fall to eat the re-grown grass.
Our immediate challenge is to rebuild the fence around the field here in Canterbury, which will no longer keep sheep in or dogs out. We love dogs and treasure their ability to run freely on the beach. Sheep, however, do not love dogs and will panic and bolt if they see a curious dog running toward them. Sturdy fences make co-existence possible.
Further complicating matters, our fencelines are infested with invasive species – mainly Asian Bittersweet, a vine that has been left to climb the fence and trees for many years. We are experimenting with ways to reduce this infestation, which you can read about in the innkeeper’s blog. The old fenceline must be cleared and the old fence dismantled, a new fence built and then managed to prevent the invasives from recolonizing it. That means mowing, mowing, and more mowing, among other things. We could use help from someone really knowledgeable about this invasive vine to design a credible control strategy for us and to help us cost it out. We could also use expert help to manage multiflora rose, autumn olive, and buckthorn.