Kate and I have now gone beyond toying with the idea of adding sheep to our growing collection of farm animals. You might notice a theme here … all the animals, including the pigs and the chickens, make a significant part of their living through foraging. Our place grows native and near-native forages very well, and we aim to make use of that.
Mark Smith, a friend and soil conservation guru from Ohio, is the person who turned me on to management intensive grazing, many years ago now. Mark is a sheep guy who also keeps a few head of cattle … he always said that the sheep and cattle were complementary grazers. What that means is that the sheep and cattle can be run over the same ground, in the same grazing cycle, and they will take advantage of different stuff in the ungulate salad bar known as pasture. Kate and I have thought about adding sheep before, but dealing with shearing and the like kept us from doing it.
Another friend, Bryan Welch, raises meat goats, sheep and cattle on his grass farm here in Kansas. Bryan introduced us to hair sheep … that’s right, sheep that shed their hair in the summer ... so we decided to go ahead and pull the trigger. Bryan has a sweet Katahdin ram with our name on it, just as soon as we get a few ewes and beef (mutton?) up the fences.
Since our place in Osage County is pretty thick with coyotes, no matter how good I get the fences to be, we wanted to have some guardian animals in place before the sheep arrived. Bryan swears by donkeys as guardians, and indeed we were quickly captivated by his donkeys, so it was really a no-brainer to go looking for a donkey or two to guard our eventual flock. Bryan also convinced us that it was perfectly fine to keep a jack and a jenny … that’s exactly what he does.
So, after a bit of searching, we settled on an older jack named Jack and a young jenny named Valerie, and with Bryan’s help brought them to the farm last Wednesday. Kate renamed Valerie … she is now Valentine. Both animals are friendly and seem well adapted to life in Osage County and the cattle. It is pretty comical to see them get after our dogs, but in a good way.
I strung about a half mile of fence over the weekend. It is good enough for cows and donkeys, but not for sheep. We’ll get there eventually, but I need to build the chicken house and finish up the pig palace first.
Photos courtesy of Kate, the camera queen, Will.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.