Weekly Farmer Diary
In her weekly Farmer’s Diary segment, sheep farmer, Clodagh Hughes, discusses the ‘grazing powers’ of sheep and strip grazing.
Here we are again, folks; where is the time going? But at least there has been a grand bit of growth lately. A little birdy told me that there is supposed to be fine weather on the horizon.
Obviously, do not quote me on this…it is an Irish summer, after all!
After a few tough weeks with sick ewes and the loss of a lamb to pneumonia, I am finally seeing some of the benefits of my hard work as I walk through the fields and witness my lambs frolicking with bellies full of lovely spring grass, topped up with their mother’s milk.
The fact that I do not blanket spray with herbicides means lots of wildflowers grow in our grass covers, giving the grassland a traditional Irish meadow quality.
Carpets of buttercups, daisies and dandelions are popping up overnight.
Sheep are known as grazing animals, as opposed to browsers, such as goats.
And, although they will eat the leaves of most low-lying trees and bushes, they much prefer to eat broad, leafy plants such as good grass swards and plantain grasses, wild garlic, sainfoin and any number of beautiful wild plants that they can get to nibble on.
You may be aware of the amazing grazing powers of sheep, but folks, until you have seen them in full ‘super graze mode’, it is hard to believe.
They will clear pastures of invasive weeds like docks and ragwort/ragweed in hours.
Naturally, these plants would not have the same nutritional benefits as the above mentioned but, nonetheless, they attribute positively to my sheep’s diet.
I may not have the diverse vegetation of our Irish highlands because, here in Carracloghan, we are a lowland area.
However, I believe that my animals are getting as close to their natural diet as possible.
By allowing my fields to be as wild and natural as is practicable (while keeping invasive and noxious weeds under control), I know they are happy animals, and the end result pays out in the flavour of the lamb meat that I produce.
Furthermore, I have been able to employ a grassland management technique that I studied during my Green Gert.
It’s called ‘strip grazing’, and any farmer reading this will know the benefits of it.
But, just in case someone is not sure of the term, briefly explained, it is where the farmer splits a field into one or more paddocks to ensure the animals graze each area efficiently and then move them on to allow the grazed paddocks to rest.
It is such a beneficial way of managing my grass, and I am finally able to do it properly this season with extra ground.
It does bring a bit of additional labour, as I have to put in small posts and at least three rows of electric wire to keep those cheeky sheep in, but, the payback is well worth the effort.
Moreover, it gives me control of my grass quality and lessens the risk of young lambs picking up intestinal worm issues as they can graze clean pastures.
Read more of Clodagh’s entries.