Sheep in the Orchard

For many years we have used an orchard floor management system where we mow the inter-row grass and throw it sideways under the trees for mulch and to suppress the weeds. We had been thinking of reducing our carbon footprint by reducing the mowing and using sheep to keep the grass down, as well as the weeds. Before doing this, we realised we would have to change our floor-based sprinkler system to avoid the sheep kicking sprinklers around and pulling out tubes. We completed the conversion to suspended lines and sprinklers in Spring and then with the onset of the current drought, we agreed to take 150 of our neighbour’s sheep to help him and this allowed us to trial the new sheep system sooner than expected. So far it is working really well and the bonus is masses of sheep poo throughout the orchard. We suspect we have about the same carbon emissions though because the sheep emit methane gas which is more greenhouse impacting than carbon dioxide from the mowers. We’ll complete an audit on this shortly.

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Sheep now live in the orchard and mow the grass for us.

Sheep now live in the orchard and mow the grass for us.

2 Responses to “Sheep in the Orchard”

  1. Roger March 28, 2016 at 5:18 am #

    Re: the sheep in the walnut grove.

    While the sheep do emit methane, there are loads of other benefits, the obvious, as you recognise is the natural fertiliser produced by the sheep. So deduct that equivalent (emissions from mining, converting and shipping artificial fertilisers) from the greenhouse gas equation.
    Also the greenhouse gas emissions of manufacturing a ride on lawn mower and shipping it to Australia.
    Hopefully the sheep produce both wool to sell and lambs for sale so there must be some sort of offset there, because I’ve never seen anyone wear or eat a ride on mower. And then there’s an offset (not sure how you’d measure it) of providing feed for the sheep in a dry year vs your neighbour having to buy in and cart supplementary feed for his livestock.
    There’s also your time to consider as well mowing time vs the sheep doing the job for you.
    There might also be a benefit in reducing soil compaction, improving cation exchange capacity by having the sheep add nitrogen to the soil rather than it being depleted by the mown grass rotting around the base of the trees.
    I think adding complexity to the interactions within the grove is a hard to measure benefit that doesn’t necessarily compare either way to a green house gas equation.

    • Phil Dening March 28, 2016 at 6:04 am #

      Hi Roger
      Thanks for your comments. We have considered all your thoughts before and we agree that on balance the more natural approach will yield benefits we can’t exactly measure. We participated in a carbon analysis project which was conducted across Tasmania and the consultant we dealt with agreed with your sentiments but didn’t have the data to demonstrate the effects one way or the other. We just agree that intuitively it stacks up better with the sheep and certainly not using chemical fertilisers or lots of fossil fuels. FYI, we had 3-year-old wethers in the orchard and being bigger and more experienced they did eventually start eating the trees as high as they could go. Our plan is to bring in lambs to fatten and hopefully gain the benefits the sheep bring with out the disadvantages of eating the orchard.

      Many thanks for taking the time to make a comment on our post.

      Regards
      Phil

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