Sheep and Soil Health

The sheep have taken over the farm! People have heard me say this a lot, and it’s true. We started out with a handful of “pet” sheep, re-homed from a retiring cheesemaker, and now we have a grade A dairy and creamery. We have transitioned out of wholesale vegetables, but we are still growing a wide range of organic, culinary and medicinal herbs. All the land that we rented previously for veggies is now in pasture.

For a long time I had no interest in pasture. It was grass, and the sheep ate it. But in the first few years of having sheep we overgrazed our land and we are now figuring out how to revitalize that pasture while planting and sustaining new pasture that can be a reliable part of our sheep nutrition program. We appreciate the flavorful milk that comes from a healthy, grass-fed diet and the sheep (and pasture) can play a vital role in sequestering carbon in the soil and replenishing nutrients. Also, their composted bedding is a great on-farm fertilizer for the herbs..and we have tons of it!

Recently we received a Farmer/Rancher grant from Western SARE (Sustainable Ag Research and Education) to explore the effects of sheep grazing on soil health and subsequent rotation crops like potatoes. We are also working with the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) to refine our composting process and pasture management through an EQUIP grant. Grass is just not grass anymore, in my mind, and my hope is that this funding will allow us to create a more holistic & reciprocal land management plan. Since we rent land from a neighboring organic potato farm, I also want to make sure that we are able to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship. Good soil health makes good neighbors!

You can read more about our SARE grant here. We will report on our findings as we go along.