During my chat recently with Paicines Ranch Vineyard Director, avid mountain biker, and all-around cool guy, Kelly Mulville, we talked extensively about integrating regenerative agriculture principles including sheep into vineyard systems to increase ecosystem health, biodiversity, and profitability.
While livestock play an important role in regenerative agriculture, sheep are not a good fit for all vineyards. Kelly shared excellent insight into the practice of adding sheep to the vineyard including some questions to consider before you run out and buy (or rent) sheep for your vineyard.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering Adding Sheep to Your Vineyard
Am I using products that are safe for livestock?
Current and past usage of certain herbicides and pesticides can harm or kill sheep and goats. Even organic products can be toxic for livestock. You must research and check all product labels (even organic) to ensure that your product usage will provide a safe environment for sheep.
Do you have the right infrastructure?
You have to have a way to control the grazing of the sheep in your vineyard, so they are helpful and not harmful. Infrastructure considerations include the height of your trellis system, the placement of your irrigation lines, fences or gates to keep sheep in the desired vineyard blocks, etc.
What variety of sheep should I use?
Sheep come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Some sheep are flighty and difficult to manage, while others can be easily managed. Kelly prefers Hair Sheep as they have wool that falls off naturally vs. having to shear them. This breed is also smaller than some other breeds of sheep and has quality meat production as well.
How will I manage the sheep when they are not in the vineyard?
The sheep will probably not be in your vineyard year round, so you need to have a barn or place for them to live during the off-season. Alternatively, in some places, you can rent sheep during the grazing season, or you can borrow them from a farmer, or you can buy sheep for the season and then sell or harvest them at the end of the growing season.
How many sheep should I start with?
Consider if you have any experience with livestock before purchasing a flock of sheep. If you don’t have experience, start small. Get just a few and allow them to run in a part of your vineyard as a trial. Grazing sheep in your vineyard is a process where you learn as you go and determine what’s best for the animals and for your vines.
If you want to hear the best advice directly from Kelly and learn more about regenerative agriculture and integrating sheep into your vineyard, check out vineyardundergroundpodcast.com/vu017.