In 2016 about 2/3 of the grazeable acres I was leasing were in an orchard. I wasn't exactly sure how different grazing in an orchard would be, but I was excited. This would be an experiment in agroforestry. I loved it. I would graze in an orchard any day of the week for a few reasons.
1. The SHADE in the orchard was the most immediate benefit for the flerd. I was so thankful to have my critters in the shade during July and August. It kept them cooler and less stressed out. Especially with the drought we had last year.
2. Hard cider. I had talked to a cider maker last winter about making hard cider from the apples in the orchard. His crew would have done the harvesting and gotten the apples in exchange for putting Four Legs Farm on the bottle and giving me enough cider to throw a big party on the farm. Unfortunately a late frost killed virtually all of the buds in the orchard and there were not enough apples to bother making cider. This hit a lot of farms in the area really hard. I'm very relieved that my livelihood wasn't riding on this crop of apples.
3. Contract Grazing. Orchards spent money and labor on mowing and applying herbicides. The family whose land I was grazing was very impressed that the sheep had managed to clear the apple tree trunks and keep weeds and brush down. This made me consider contract grazing - providing grazing as a service.
This usually involves moving a lot of animals through an area for short duration of time to clear vegetation. There different situations when people would want sheep to perform targeted grazing.
-Invasive Species Management
This is a game changer. Food has a relatively low price cap that people are willing to pay, but if farming becomes a service the economics are totally different.
The ecological engineer in me is getting excited about figuring which metrics would the most relevant for documenting the impacts of targeted grazing. Like how to evaluate the degree to which the sheep have removed underbrush. I'm also fantasizing about showing increases in organic matter in the soil and getting carbon credits as an additional income stream.
I'm excited to delve further into figuring out how targeted grazing work. I'll be chewing on this for a while.
Leanna at Four Legs Farm