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. Barley grass (foxtails in the US) and speargrass, both introduced species, are good forage until their seed heads harden. At that point, the sheep stop grazing them, and in fact I have to take the sheep off those paddocks so the seeds don't get into their wool, eyes, ears, nose and skin. They are also hazardous for the dogs.
My barley grass and speargrass is mostly confined to the lucerne and to the flat that burned last January. The flat isn't too bad, but the lucerne is literally chest high with speargrass. Despite my best efforts to get the lucerne grazed before this stage, rough weather and a disinclination to graze lucerne in October and early November has, once again, let the annual grasses win the battle. Even when I shepherded the sheep through the lucerne, they really weren't interested. I don't know if (a) they had a surfeit after shearing when I left them in the lucerne for about 2 weeks--albeit with access to the native vegetation on the hill above; or (b) the long grass among the lucerne put them off; or (c) they just didn't need the protein this spring with everything else that's on offer, or (d) they just didn't want it!
It's going to take me months to get used to the 180 degree turn in pasture quantity this spring. Since I started 2½ years ago, shepherding has been as much an effort to spread out the grazing pressure as a way to provide additional forage diversity. This year, the sheep aren't keeping up with the growth in the low country, and certainly don't need me to take them out for dinner.
They do still need to have as much choice as I can supply, but even then, they fill up quite quickly and then just lay around groaning like they had too much turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Well, maybe I exaggerate. Still, left to their own devices, they may only move a hundred metres or so in a day, unless they want a drink that is farther away. I'm not at all sure this couch-potato tendency is healthy, so I often just go and get them to move for the sake of exercise!
Chance lost in the long grass, early November
The good news is I have 80% or more of the property locked away from grazing, allowing it to recover with the rains and spring growth. I'll keep it that way as long as I can. Meanwhile, I have to find new and creative ways to give them diversity without losing them in the long grass.