Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cheap Sheep Gal

Several years ago i was giving a ride to our friend Dan Byrne(rest in peace Dan.) Dan was a cattle rancher friend of ours and the husband of my good friend Geri.  As we drove along a ditch bank i was quizzing Dan about the plants we saw and asking what was good feed, and what was not.

Dan answered several questions and then asked me why i was asking.  I told him i was thinking of grazing the ditch banks with our sheep. Dan said "well hell, you are finally thinking like a cheap sheep gal!" If you cant find free food you are not much of a sheep rancher!"

I took those words to heart and i have been looking for cheap or free food ever since.

This fall i was out looking for alfalfa stubble fields to graze my lambs on. The stubble fields are a very rich source of fall food, and using sheep to graze is also beneficial to the farmer, as it helps kill the weevil and aphid eggs. The weevil and aphids eat the alfalfa.

I pulled into a farm house and introduced myself to a neighbor i had meet once before. I asked about a stubble field and he had and he told me the man who was leasing the field was going to be taking a 4th cutting from that field, so there would be no graze.

We stood and talked a few minutes and the man said i could graze his other field if i wanted. He said he thought the spud farmers may want it for next year, but i could have it until then.   He said i would take a look, and went to walk to the field. The field is up against the hill and you can not see it from the road.

At first glance this is what i saw. A lot of dried up mustard. Mustard is good food, but this was too dry. This field was not farmed this year or last, but it has irrigation ditch on 2 sides and this year, after the water crisis of two years ago, the ditches subbed a lot.

Not to be discouraged i set to walk through the field, to see what else i could find. As i walked i started to see more of this. Good grass under that mess.

Still further i found a lot of this, coarse but green and lush.

The next week we trailed the ewes to this field which is about 2 miles from our house. As we set up net i lost sight of the ewes. I cold just see a few ears here and there so i sent Mint. Then i could just see a pair of Border Collie ears every now and then ,and she bounced up to look for sheep. It seemed like a very long time until Mint found the sheep and brought them to me.

Here i am mom!

Hay prices are high this year and any graze that you can find after irrigation season ends means less hay to feed, and more profit. The lambs are still grazing on our ranch, but a neighbor in the other direction stopped by this week and offered 40 acres of stubble to us. The man who cut the farmers field did not want the 4th cutting and this farmer did want that much stubble left for winter.  We will be trailing the lambs to this field next week and i will get some pics and a write up of that then. The lambs are not as easy to trail.

These are the days i am very grateful that we have good dogs( trucking these sheep and lambs would be much more time consuming and expensive) and the dogs can do the job in an hour or two. Also thankful we learned about and invested in, temp electric fence, as none of these fields have good fence. Also thankful for the livestock guard dogs that keep the sheep safe, when they are home and especially when they are on the road :)

We do worry about the sheep when they are not on the ranch, but it is part of the season for our ranch, and i try to turn the worry over to God when i can. I could not do that without the lessons of a cheap sheep gal, learned from the many sheep and cattle ranchers that have given us advise over the years. Also from the advice i have found from Bill Fosher's sheep forum, http://edgefieldsheep.com/bb/index.php which is an amazing source of information.

I encourage other shepherds out there to ask for graze, learn new ideas about graze and fencing and  "think like a cheap sheep guy/gal!!"


  1. Great Post, Lana. I was just looking at our ditches and thinking about the grass there as food--never did that before we had our few sheep.

  2. Thanks! ditches have great food!

  3. I have thought about it for grazing some of the ditches around here. We do graze the ditches right out in front of our place, but I have often wondered if the county would mind if I grazed some of the others around here.

  4. Patrick had a whole pile < small mountain > of free onions at his place. The farmers will deliver it, by what appears to be the dump truck load. Apparently sheep do well on onions, one ewe will eat about 40# a day, I think is what he said. There's enough surplus in the valley that last year he spent very little on hay and fed a lot of onion. I'll tell you the place smelled amazing! Turnips, pumpkins, onions in your area? :)

  5. Kathy i would bet they would think it was great, never hurts to ask.

    Erin it does change the flavor of the meat would be ok for ewes but not lambs.

    We are spud country here and processing onions not the big kind. In the valley i know folks who feed the "waste" from the big veggie places.

  6. Would it not make them self basting? ;)

  7. LOL yes i would!

    Also a good point free or cheap food in on area is not the same as in others. You have to think outside the box!

    I know folks who get the waste from the ethanol plants as well.

  8. It would be cheaper for the county than having to pay someone to mow all of those ditches. Hmmm, food for thought for next year as we would like to have more sheep.