What's there to think about?
The "work" of the moment is thinking and planning for next spring. It's time to place the rams with the ewes. HIgh time. The flock is restless and impatient. With four eligible and highly motivated boys (Teaberry, Parsely, Chai and Cinder) and dozens of young ewes, I have more options than ever before for pairing. With one black and one moorit ram, there's more potential for breeding for color. I could easily breed 50 or more ewes. So exciting. So tempting. But really, I do not need 100+ lambs next year.
This summer we rotated 110 sheep over 220 acres of pasturage, hay land, mixed wood and sometimes brush. Could we add more sheep to our land? Sure. We have plans to build more hard fenceline on the birch tree lot and down in the dell.
In my recent reading about grass based farming, I've hoped to find a simple rule of thumb: how many sheep can an acre of land sustain? There's a crazy number of variables: soil type, quality of forage, rotation schedule, etc. I was not entirely surprised to find there is no easy rule of thumb, though I did find a suggested guideline of allowing 4 acres per sheep. If that were true, our farm would only support 55 head. When our numbers were that small a few years back, we had pastures going to seed, the flock couldn't keep up with the grass.
If we weren't managing a flock for premium wool, I know we could push our sheep harder than we do, forcing them to clean up in the fields. But the wool would suffer. If we grazed our land more intensively, the land would suffer. Fields need time to recharge. Sheep have funny dining habits. They love grazing and re-grazing their favorite bits, leaving unpalatable weeds and certain varieties of sedge untouched. We have to mow what they don't/won't eat.
So we're thinking about balance. What's best for the health of the flock, land - and shepherds, too.
On that note, let me share that I'm writing this post thinking about the farm not from the farm, but from my outpost at a Boston hotel. Yesterday I had a cardiac stress test, MRI, labs and a meeting with my doc at Brigham & Womens. It was an exhausting day, but the word from my doc is encouraging.
I am getting my energy back (compared to six weeks ago, the improvement is dramatic). My heart is mending. My biggest challenge is regaining muscle and strength - and I'll be working with a fitness trainer toward that goal in the coming weeks. Exercise, though draining, is the best thing for me right now. I'm not looking to run marathons, but I would like to be able to flip a ewe or to hike to the top of my hayfield without getting winded sometime in the not so distant future.
I wanted to share this positive news with you, as you all have been so kind in wishing me well and keeping me in your thoughts. Many of you have made very generous contributions to my Flock For Healthy Hearts initiative for Go Red For Women. I thank you - whole heartedly!
I still have our gorgeous 2011 Flock For Healthy Hearts calendars available, my personal special thank you for the first 100 donors to this worthy cause. The calendars shipped late last week which means we'll be putting them in the mail this coming week.
And for those of you who keep checking, please stay tuned for an important announcement about Sheep Shares 2011.