The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Category: Animals (page 1 of 9)

Sheep Week

Good Shepherd

Oh my word. The sheep. First of all, they are so pretty out in our pasture. A group of fluffy white in the middle of all our green just feels right. They are pretty and pastoral. Their lambs are darling. And their loyalty to their shepherd demonstrates so much of scripture, lived out right in front of us. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Rory and his sheep are tight. He’s a good shepherd and they’ve got a special bond.

Flock of sheep in pasture

I, on the other hand, don’t feel quite so connected to the sheep. Mostly because I’m not out there multiple times a day caring for them. But also because sheep are pretty aloof if you’re not the one bringing them their food. The goats have big personality. The sheep seem indifferent.

Anyway, Rory is trying this rotational grazing thing that is good for the soil, good for the sheep and good for sustainable land practices. He has nine paddocks set up in our orchard for the sheep to rotate on. They’ll live in one paddock for a few days before being moved to the next one and on and on. In the end, this will be a really low-key way to pasture the sheep.

But this year it has taken some serious set up. On the advice of another farmer, we didn’t let our sheep out on the pasture until June 1, so that the grass and alfalfa could establish itself after the winter. But it turns out that this year, that date was way too late. The grass took off the last week of May, and by the time we realized what was happening out there, the grass was taller than Rory!

Grass growing out of control

Sheep like young grass, the shorter stuff. Not the tall stuff. So Rory has been out there FOR HOURS mowing down the tall grass in each paddock making it ready for the white fluffs to come and lay down in his green pastures.

Mowing Tall Grasses

And then this was the week that we finally found someone to come and shear our sheep. And just in time! These poor guys have been wearing their huge wool sweaters all spring and tomorrow is supposed to hit 99 degrees here. The shearing was eventful and stressful. We had an older farmer and a neighbor come to help us with the hopes that we might learn how to shear on our own.

Shearing the sheep with Lloyd and Gary

Rory and Farmer Lloyd wrangled the first sheep out on the concrete so the wool wouldn’t be mixed with the bedding of the stalls. They wrestled that sheep to the ground and in the mayhem Rory got his finger bit so hard that blood was dripping all over that clean concrete floor. He left to clean his wound, and I left with the children, discussing what “stressful” means on our way into the house. Later, I went back out to see how it was going and a different sheep spotted me in the window, got spooked and pulled the halter loose and began running pell mell all around the barn with half a fleece trailing behind her, through the dirty bedding. I quietly backed up and pretended I hadn’t returned.

In the end we decided that we will gladly hire this job out each year. And we will forever stand in awe of 4-H children who shear their sheep with confidence and ease. Actually, we will stand in awe that 4-H children can even move their sheep from their stall out to the arena for showing. We will watch these sheep events with much more appreciation this year at the fair!

And finally, because of the heat, and because our fruit trees are still too little to provide shade, the sheep will need shade in each paddock. So Rory worked the past few nights out in the barn building a mobile shelter. It’s pretty awesome.

Portable Shelter

All in all, this whole week has been about the sheep. They even found their way out of their electric fence and into the neighbors back yard. But when Rory called to them, they came back right away. Because he knows his sheep and his sheep know him. He’s a good shepherd.


Holy Week Lamb

Baby lamb a few days old outside with mom

When we came home from church on Palm Sunday, there was one sheep going making all sorts of noise in the pasture so I told Ivar he had better go see if everything was okay. He hopped out of the car and ran to the barn. A while later he came in, “I think a lamb is going to be born! Fluffy Cloud has a very, very red butt!”

So Rory ran out to the barn, and sure enough, still in its sack, found a baby lamb and affectionate mother cleaning it.

Little lamb minutes after birth

Mama sheep cleaning up her baby lamb

He stayed to make sure everything was going smoothly, separated the other two sheep from the new mama and her baby and filled the water bucket with warm molasses water.

Other ewes outside

I got lunch for the kids and put Hattie down for a nap. I asked Elsie if she wanted to come out to the barn with me and she commented, “No, because one time I saw a goat being born and it was very gross to me.” True story. She did watch a baby goat literally come into the world and it left a serious impression on both of my kids! We didn’t make her go to the barn until later that evening…

But I went out to the barn and the little lamb was already trying to stand on it’s legs and nurse. Everything was going so smoothly, much to my serious relief. We are so new at all of this and even though we have been reading our go-to sheep book and asking questions and watching youtube videos, there are some lessons to learn that you just have to experience. But it’s scary! We really love our animals and want to care for them perfectly, even as we learn everything from scratch.

Baby lamb standing for the first time

We named the little lamb Sunday, as he was born on a Sunday and quickly discovered the lamb was a boy…just like our two goat kids are male. We’re ready for a lady! :)

The next day we found the lamb jumping around, trying out it’s legs, kicking and dancing all around the pen. All the sheep (except the ram) were let outside on Tuesday and it was so fun to watch Sunday bound around the field. It is amazing to watch how quickly these barn animals get to their feet! In human time, a kid isn’t jumping and leaping for 18 months, maybe 2 whole years. And here, on day two of life the lamb was kicking around his sturdy legs.

Easter is full of lamb imagery. Jesus is the pure, spotless lamb of God here to take away the sins of the world. These words have a whole new meaning as we behold our little, sweet lamb bounding happily around the barn.

Baby lamb a few days old, relaxing with mom


Good morning, kid.. Baby goats arrive!

Mama Goats

As I type this we have one new goat on the farm and another nanny in labor, probably giving birth to twins. We rigged up a webcam in the barn so you can watch live! See the top of sidebar on this web page to the right.

Here is a clip from yesterday:

Be sure to visit our YouTube Channel and subscribe so we can send you more videos of cute baby animals. :)


Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing for Sheep

Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing

Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing. That’s a mouthful. MIRG for short.

MIRG is a system of pasturing animals to maximize pasture growth. Proponents call it farming grass.

Two sheep grazing

Rotational grazing is nothing new. Dividing up a pasture into paddocks to prevent overgrazing goes back to the earliest agrarian societies. What is fairly recent is intensive rotational grazing. Instead of pasturing animals in a large paddock for a month or two, then moving them to the next paddock, MIRG is pasturing animals in very small paddocks for just a few days at a time, or in some cases hours.

The heart of the idea stems from giving pasture the optimum amount of time to re-grow before being grazed again. Short grazing periods stimulate growth, long grazing periods destroy pasture.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University

There are many benefits to the animals as well:

  • Animals are exposed to more varieties of forage because they cannot simply return to their favorite alfalfa patch every day
  • Animals are forced to move and exercise more
  • Fewer parasites build up in the soil and affect the animals
  • Manure is more evenly spread

Finally, perhaps the biggest benefit of all is soil health. MIRG and techniques like it build up far larger amounts of topsoil than any other known method. Rather than continually depleting the soil and subsidizing with chemical fertilizers, MIRG allows me to build healthier pastures that are self-sustaining.

Contrary to what it may seem, grazing is necessary to healthy pastures. If pastures are not grazed they turn into deserts. This was brought to my attention by the compelling TED talk by Allan Savory, a pioneer in the field of holistic land management.

Since acquiring our sheep last Summer I have had this nagging desire to figure out MIRG and apply it to our farm.

Tonight, I finally figured it out.

My first question was, can MIRG be used with a small scale of animals? We have 3 ewes and 1 ram currently, expecting lambs this Spring. The answer appears to be yes; I have found no literature saying there is a minimum amount of animals required. As long as the space requirements are met, the benefits of rotational grazing applies to 4 sheep just as much as 40,000.

My second question was, how do I size the paddocks for the number of sheep I have? The numbers are all over the map on this, and “stocking density” isn’t a terribly popular subject online. Thanks to a University of Minnesota Extension presentation, I was able to get some hard numbers and convert them for our farm.

The calculations use “Animal Units” or AU’s which are a livestock standard based on a mature 1,000 pound cow. The MIRG approach assumes 33 AUs per acre per day. So that’s 33 cows, or about 33,000 pounds. Keep in mind, this is dependent on the pasture productivity. It could be as low as 25 AUs or high as 80 AUs. But for the purposes of getting started, I am going with the 33 AU number.

My last question was, how big do I need to make the paddocks and how many of them do I need? If MIRG requires 33 cows per acre, that equates to 1,320 square feet per cow. Since our mature sheep are approximately 200 lbs, they will need 1/5th the space, or 264 sq ft.

The grazing periods should be as frequent as you can handle, no more than 5 days per paddock. Once per day seems to be a desirable number in most of the literature. But I have a day job, so I’m settling for twice per week. That means I will increase the spacing by 3.5, which is ~900 sq ft per sheep. Multiply by 4 sheep and we get to 3,600 square feet per paddock.

Square paddocks are recommended as opposed to rectangular or wedge-shaped which do not tend to get evenly grazed. So that means I’ll be making 60’x60′ paddocks (out of electric fencing) in addition to lanes for the sheep to follow to get to each paddock.

Drawing of paddocks for MIRG approach

Finally, I calculated out how many times I would have to move the sheep to allow the paddocks 30 days of rest between grazing. It’s 10.

To recap, modified MIRG for 4 sheep:

  • 33 Cows (AUs) / Acre = 165 Sheep / Acre (Using 0.2 AU)
  • 1,320 sq ft / cow = 264 sq ft / sheep
  • 3-4 day rotation = ~900 sq ft per animal
  • 4 sheep = 3,600 sq ft total
  • 3,600′ = 60’x60′ paddocks
  • Requires 10 paddocks to achieve 29-day rest period

This is subject to change depending on the number of lambs born this Spring, and the productivity of our pasture. The rule of thumb was to graze the animals when the grass reaches 9-inches and to move them when its down to 2″ or 3″.

Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing: Sheep enjoying pasture at sunset


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