Each winter some 200 ewes and lambs call our organic vineyards home, where they feast upon wild vegetation. The troop has the run of a one-hectare block of vines for about two days, before the shepherd moves them to a new block.
When the vegetation gets out of hand, we only have a few options: tilling, mowing or hosting our grazing companions. These natural mowers save us tractor passes from October to March. Right before bud break, the sheep then move on to other pastures.
By having the sheep graze the vineyard floor we’ve found that they also minimize the hardier weeds. This makes it easier to control weeds later in the year with tilling.
Winters here means rain, and using tractors in wet soils causes compaction, something we try to avoid at all costs. When they are properly controlled, sheep don’t stay in the same area for long periods of time, so soil compaction is minimized.
In addition to mowing the grass, the sheep provide some of nature’s best fertilizer. Their manure takes time to dissolve into the soil and attracts dung beetles that are very beneficial to soil quality.
Good grazing management is a win-win endeavor. For the shepherd, it generates savings by limiting the need to build up forage stocks; and for the winery: these adorable animals participate in maintaining a rich native ecosystem.
And besides – they’re cute!!
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