Sunday, June 21, 2009

A BOX? What's it for?

Greg and I built this box to go in the back of the truck next weekend when I head down to Missouri to pick up my sheep. It will eventually serve as a doghouse when I'm not hauling sheep around in it...
About two years ago, I started reading about the utility of using sheep in the vineyard to help with mowing and weed control. I started doing a little research and sure enough, people were starting to use sheep as an alternative to spraying herbicide, and continuously running a mower in vineyards and orchards. What I found were a couple of alternatives. U.C. Davis was using full-sized sheep in vineyard trials, and were "training" the sheep to avoid the grape leaves by feeding them grape leaves, followed by a harmless chemical that upset their stomach. The thinking was that the sheep would associate the upset stomach with the grape leaves, and avoid eating the vine foliage and focus on the weeds and grass. They've had some success with this, but apparently the sheep need to be "re-trained" periodically as they tend to "forget" why they aren't eating the leaves. Intrigued, I kept digging. I found that the other alternative was to use miniature sheep. That is correct! Tiny sheep that top out at about 22 inches at the shoulder. These diminutive sheep are simply too short to reach the leaves and grapes, and can be put into the vineyard in the early spring to get a jump start on weeds and grass, and then taken out later in the growing season as the foliage starts getting within reach and the grapes start to ripen. After harvest, back in they go, to help clean up the vineyard floor and take down the remaining weeds and grass before winter. I made up my mind that Bluff Creek Vineyards would soon be home to a small flock of these sheep.
I soon learned that Old English Southdown Sheep or "Babydoll" sheep are an ancient breed from Southern England that nearly died out but were brought back from the brink by Robert Mock, who located a small flock and set about the task of building back their numbers from the original stock. They are a really small sheep, and from what I understand, they are not technically "miniature sheep" but rather just small sheep, driven to their size by the conditions they lived under, I guess much like the Shetland Pony and other ponies from the British Isles.
I located a breeder and got on her list for 2009 lambs. We designed our trellis system to keep the cordons well above their reach. I'm starting out with either 5 or 6 sheep. I will expand the flock if this experiment goes well. We've run fence for their permanent pasture, and I'm investigating moveable hot-wire to use in the vineyard when they are out there. I'm getting pretty excited about bringing them home.

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