by Eli Roberts
It's hot out there! It feels like we haven't gotten substantial rain in at least six weeks, maybe more. Most of the grass is dry and crispy, and even the paddocks that we grazed in June haven't done much regrowing. But the sheep have to eat…to grow out their wool, for the ewes to keep making milk, and for the lambs to get up to size. We've been able to make use of this resource we've been cultivating since the beginning. Look at these pictures: most of the green you see is on the trees!
L to R: Black Locust, Hackberry, and Mulberry Trees on August 15
They're great for shade, and the sheep ate most of what they could reach in their first rotation around the farm. Now that we're in the hard part of the summer, we're doing some dramatic pruning.
We have rows of willow, black locust, mulberry, and white oak growing near our small vineyard area. I cut them back to around 7' tall last winter, to "pollard" them, so they will grow in a kind of lollipop shape. (The willows had lots of stems, so they turned into a lollipop with a... second lollipop at the bottom?). Here's what I mean:
L to R: Black Locust (before) and Willow (before)
I cut all the stems off and just left the "stick" of the lollipop:
L to R: Black Locust (after) and Willow (after)
And brought them to the sheep! They woke up from their hot, woolly napping cluster under their shade umbrella and came running:
The ewes got in on the action, too:
Our goal is to have these trees in every paddock so we don't have to schlep branches across the farm (and we're getting there!) We're trying to give the sheep a nutritional, varied diet even when the cool-season grasses are not at their peak. We've fed the usual suspects: willow, locust, poplar, mulberry, false indigo, and some less common trees: elm, buckthorn, redbud, hackberry.
We're keeping our fingers crossed for rain soon, but we're making it for now!