Thursday, 4 June 2009

Observations: Sheep Grazing the Spring Paddock

Our recently acquired sheep were in the Spring Paddock for a total of four days. What follows are some of the observations, together with a few pictures.
During the period the sheep did an excellent job in knocking down much of the aged dry herbage mass, placing it against the soil surface. This will act as a mulch (although only slight) and help stimulate activity within the soil. The length of time they were in the paddock was such that there is still good plant leaf area intact, which will enable the plants to continue photosynthesis and re-grow. This photo is fairly indicative of ground cover post grazing.
The paddock contained quite a number of plants which seemed to be unpalatable - mostly Curly Windmill grass and Purple Wiregrass. Both of these are native. There is a good side to this in that the general habitat is maintained, and we were especially pleased to note that several Quails were still in the paddock. This photo shows some of the Curly Windmill Grass plants, with some of the sheep in the background. The sheep themselves all appeared very bright and attentive. We were fascinated to observe:
1. They were totally silent
2. They seemed to graze the paddock in stages over the four days
3. In doing the above they stayed loosely together as a mob, and were very quick to bunch up densely when we were moving them.
4. Surprisingly they did not touch the long Couch Grass around the Spring itself, or take water from the Spring. Clearly there was sufficient moisture in the pasture to meet all of their water requirements.
There is at least some Dung Beetle activity in the paddock, although we did only see this one bit of evidence.
The Spring Paddock is now only just over 5 hectares in total area and this was the first time we'd grazed it at this size, having completed new fencing last year. The sheep seemed to have determined a new camp site, at the highest point and in the narrowest section of the paddock. Heavy dung and urine is now in this area, which we know will lead to a lessening of native perennial plants in the short term and promotion of high nitrogen tolerant annuals such as Stinging Nettles, Barley Grass and Marshmallows. That said, we are hopeful that the level of actual ground cover will increase.
The sheep camp area also happens to be across the farm track.
You can see in this photograph that they have done an excellent job in levelling out what was a mini-erosion area, although the longer term impact is as yet unclear.
We are hoping that the addition of the organic matter (dung and urine) and animal impact through breaking some of the soil capping will trigger more subsequent plant growth.

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