This fall has been a series of experiments in how to feed the flock during the fall/winter/spring period when the grass is not growing. Our preference is to use “stockpiled” pasture, which is uncut/ugrazed pasture, and requires no machinery to harvest, therefore consumes no diesel or gasoline, and takes no space to store. Our main concern was – could the sheep eat through snow or ice to get at the stockpiled feed? We were pleasantly surprised that indeed, even with six inches of snow, the sheep happily searched out the plants below, and apparently also supplied themselves with water from the snow. But we have been also giving the sheep some baled hay, since in very cold weather, especially when it is snowing, the sheep seek shelter and don’t spend time grazing. We were carrying small square bales of hay from the barn to the sheep daily to ensure that nutrition is maintained for these young, still growing ewes.
In an earlier blog, you may remember that we harvested both small square bales as well as some large round bales off the front pastures. Small square bales only weigh about 30-40 lbs, are easy to store, but require a lot of handling and space to store under cover to prevent spoilage. They also need to be carried out to the sheep on a daily basis. The large round bales, on the other hand, weigh about 800-1000 lb and can be stored outside under a tarp. Moving them can be a challenge, of course, and we covered that in an earlier blog. But once moved out to the sheep, the question was: Would the sheep eat from them, and how would we prevent spoilage for the 3-4 weeks they would be exposed to moisture/snow?
One thing we did was to position the bale onto a small tarp to prevent wicking up of moisture into the hay. Once we moved the bale into position and unwrapped the mesh that was around it, we pulled off the outer 3 inches of hay that was rotted and mouldy. This was a bit concerning because we were uncertain about how deep that bad layer was, since these bales had been left out in the field for about 2 months before we moved and covered them. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the underlying hay was sweet and dry! No hay went to waste, either. The rotted hay was used to mulch the garlic bed! Then the next issue was that snow was likely to pile up on top of the bale, dribbling down through the entire bale when the sun melted it. We therefore devised a small “shower cap” of a tarp wrapped tightly around the top tied with baling twine (what would we do without that!).
And finally we introduced the sheep to it. It was a bit worrying for a while since the sheep initially regarded this new “monster” in their field with grave suspicion, and we saw no activity near the bale for two days. In fact, the first night they hunkered down in a small wary clot as far as they could from the blue headed beast. But soon, curiosity got the better of them, and after a few tentative nibbles, they were chowing down!
We hope this will be the feeding method for the future, because after we have bred up to a flock of 100 ewes, dealing with 60 large bales will be logistically challenging, but nowhere near as big of an issue as stacking and storing the equivalent of over 3,000 small square bales!