Sunday, September 20, 2009

Temporary fences

Dave and I walk out to check on the sheep. When we approached, they stood, stretched and stared. “Okay,” Dave said, “they still have enough grass to eat. We can leave them in this pasture another few days.” But as we passed them, they all fell in line behind us, obviously ready for new forage.

We have eleven different pastures. We try to rotate the flock through each pasture at about weekly intervals. That way, the sheep eat everything in the pasture but aren’t there long enough to nibble the new shoots, giving the pasture grasses time to recuperate.

Our different pastures have different grasses, some have cool season grasses, some have grasses that grow best in the heat of summer. Some pastures have alfalfa mixed in with the grass to give them some drought resistance and others have weeds mixed in with the grass (actually, they all do.) In my imagination I say that we don’t have monoculture pastures, that the diversity of species makes them healthier. But actually, I think the diversity just means we’re human. Since we don’t spray herbicides on our pastures, weeds grow. Over the years we’ve had dozens of young people join us in our attempts to destroy all pasture weeds (especially the thistles), and they just keep coming back (I am speaking of the weeds, not the young people – although they also come back, just not to kill weeds).

Our sheep move from pasture to pasture as the summer progresses, until late August or early September when all the pasture grasses are sere and brown. By this time of year, the grasses have little or no nutrient value, and the sheep don’t like to eat them anyway. Now is the time to move our sheep out onto temporary pasture.

It takes me about three hours to set up a temporary pasture. First, I lay out ten rolls of electronet fencing. This fencing is a 100 foot by 3 foot web of plastic strands interwoven with bare metal wires. The plastic strands give the fence structure, the metal wires are hooked up to a charger, a battery and a solar panel to electrify the fence.

I unroll a fence section and lay it on the ground along one side of our hay field. Then I walk back down the fence line. Every ten feet of fence fabric has a 3 foot post woven through it. As I come to each post, I ram it into the ground and then continue on along the fence line. At the end of a roll, I begin a new roll, making the electrical connections between the first and second sections of fence. I continue setting up fence in a large rectangle, trying to use the hayfield as efficiently as possible.

Alfalfa needs time to regenerate after it has been cut and before the freeze, so we try not to use our hayfields for grazing until after the first hard freeze. But this year, we will be digging up much of our east hayfield to replant. We don’t need any alfalfa to survive the freeze, so we can graze the sheep on it now.

once the fences are up, I set up the solar panel, the battery and the fence charger. I drag the garden hose down to the hayfield and hook up the water. Now all I need to do is persuade the sheep to follow me through a three foot wide hole in the pasture fence to the hayfield. With luck, it won’t take anywhere near as long as setting up the fence.

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