The sheer length and density of grass on the property is a long-term boon and a short term struggle. Capital "S" shepherding, the style I've been using and telling you about for the last 3 years is just not what's needed or even possible right now. I'm trying out the idea for myself of thinking of this as a time of small "s" shepherding--all of the many things I need to do to ensure the health of the animals, whether or not I move them any distance on a given day. I have to admit I miss the big Shepherding days and the hours spent wandering with the flock.
As the grass got longer and denser and covered more of the property over summer, I had to eat my own words about how much my sheep like long grass. To be fair, they truly don't seem to mind making their way into a stand of long grass to graze. But this season has taught me that while they don't mind visiting long grass, they don't want to live there!
23rd October - 15 November
Every season has its own particular challenges when it comes to shepherding, and this spring is certainly no exception. The challenges arise not only from the weather, which has been way outside the norm, but also from the myriad grazing decisions the sheep and I have made over the last few dry years. This year, the prevalence of bare ground--from overgrazing and from fire--has provided the precise conditions for a perfect storm of annual grasses and broadleaf plants.
9 - 22 October, 2016
Somewhere between irony and serendipity, my procrastination in writing this post has worked perfectly. "Taking Shelter" was meant to be the last catch-up, describing the period of nasty weather in early October, but the nasty weather has just kept coming. I'm writing this today, instead of shepherding, because the rain is coming in horizontally, from the south, and the ambient temperature is not far off freezing.
September 21 - October 8, 2016
This is another belated post--one more and I'll be caught up with my backlog. There we were, happily grazing the barley- and spear-grass infested flats, with the occasional treat of some Patterson's Curse, when we got hit with another nearly 3 inches of rain on our already saturated soils.
Anticipating the deluge, I moved the flock to higher ground--up into the dolerite country where there is shelter, and enough slope for the runoff to run off, rather than just pool like it does in the Road Paddock.
September 14 to 21, 2016
In case you missed it in my last Come Shepherding post, I've decided to modify my approach to these reports. Here's what I said in Recovering from Shearing: "Taking time off shepherding has also given me the impetus to re-think the way I've been doing the Come Shepherding posts. It's been a fascinating process for me, and when I look back over the past 5 months I'm really glad I made the commitment. And, it's a LOT of work. I think I (and probably all of you, too) have gotten most of what is useful from a documentary description of shepherding on a day-by-day (and even hour-by-hour) basis.
September 5-15, 2016
It's just over two weeks since shearing, and we all seem to be more or less recovered. Shearing is the most stressful thing we do, in my humble opinion. Other than jetting for fly during the summer season, mostly the flock and the dogs and I just swan around the countryside doing what the sheep most want to do. So, having to squeeze 300 sheep at a time into the shed, allowing strange men to manhandle them (twice--once for crutching, then two days later for shearing), removing their 4" long wool coats and then putting them back on the hill to brave the cold, must come as a huge emotional, physical and thermal shock.
August 27, 2016
Today we moved the flock into position for easy access to the wool shed tomorrow. The sheep need to be dry for crutching or shearing, so I pop them in the holding shed overnight, just to be sure. I'd say they are well and truly over the Racecourse Grazing Area, despite there being quite a lot of good feed in patches still there. But the high ground where they like to hang out is getting pretty short and stale, so it was not hard to convince them to come with me down into the lucerne for a short feed, then into the Road Paddock, which is virtually ungrazed.
August 24, 2016
It was a beautiful day after a mild frost to start. The flock was still in the Stud Paddock from Monday's circuit, and seemed quite enthusiastic about following me anywhere else. We circled the Racecourse Grazing Area, staying in the "bottoms" as much as possible, then headed into the Lucerne Reserve for an hour of dessert and nap. At least, I think that's how they feel about the lucerne--that it's a special treat, and when they've filled up they often settle down for a rest and ruminate.
Mondays are my designated "full days" for shepherding, defined by (a) I take my lunch and (b) I don't transmit. As a consequence I have lots of time to think, or more accurately, to let my brain spin. For the past week or two, I've had a song on replay in my head: of all things, a choral version of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, that I sang in my junior high school choir, lo, these many long years ago.
We had a mild frost this morning after fitful rain last night, so the day started beautifully--sunny and light winds. I found the sheep just coming back out of the Stud Paddock, so brought them up over the hill to graze around the woolshed. They had a lovely graze down the west-facing hill of the Strip (V1), then a sojourn in the lower reaches of Curly Sedge Creek, where they seemed set to spend the morning!
I got a good look at the cygnets out walking with their parents this morning, and I'm pretty sure there are 5 of them. Yesterday evening I had the treat of watching them being put to bed on mama's back for the night. Just as much to-ing and fro-ing as you'd expect from 5 kids. There is something really special for me in knowing mama and papa feel safe enough to keep returning year after year to have their clutch near Swan Lake.
The plan for today was to graze the main yards, and in the process check out a couple of sheep with sore feet, to see if they needed doctoring (they didn't). From there, we grazed across the Road Paddock and into Eeyore's Patch, which is the paddock at the base of the big hill--part of the January burn. Eeyore's Patch, not surprisingly, has a section with LOTS of thistle, and also has a fair bit of chicory, plantain, lucerne and clover.
Curly Sedge Creek is a seasonal soak that drains much of the northern half of the property. Because it tends to have better soil moisture, a few years ago I decided to plant trees, shrubs and sedges in it. I did the preparation, and had the lines "deep ripped" to break through the clay barrier layer in my sandstone soils. Unbeknownst to me or the ripper, he cut through both of the water lines spanning the creek multiple times as he followed my planting line contours along the line of flow!
For the last several days, the forecasts for today have been unattractive: snow above 900 m, wind, rain. Even this morning, at 3 am, the Bureau of Met put out a Sheep Graziers Warning for nasty conditions. So I was all set to spend the morning catching up on various office chores. But out came the sun, with no lowering rain clouds on the horizon, so Chance and Janie and I took off for the Racecourse GA to entice the flock into the Stud Paddock--the one place they hadn't yet grazed this time around.
It's been a month in the Basin Grazing Area, so time to make a move. There was a domino effect, starting a couple of weeks ago when my fencing contractors demolished the old fence along the highway in the rams' paddock. I shifted the rams onto the Racecourse, into the triangular paddock I call the "Stud Paddock"--a legacy of the years I bred my own rams from a small flock of high quality ewes known as studs (yes, it confused me at first, too--how can girls be studs??)
Quite a contrast to yesterday: we transited nearly the full length of the Basin Grazing Area, and the wind was howling again, out of the west. Yesterday, late in the day, the wind veered northerly long enough to draw the flock out of the Back Gully Reserve and into the Grass Gully, where we picked them up this morning.
A delightful day, with sunshine, light winds and tractable sheep. We did only a relatively short distance but the sheep were grazing most of the time. The NE side of the gully is a bit hard for the sheep to find: they have to make their way through fairly dense cutting sags (lomandra longifolia) and gorse to get well down into the better forage.
Cold sunshine and blustery winds made for an exciting short circuit this morning. The sheep were in the Back Gully, near the tree reserve, when we found them, and from there it's just a short hop into the Back Gully Reserve. The Reserve is a rocky, mostly native area, though with lots of gorse in parts. It has good shelter from the westerlies, and lots of forage diversity.