Matt and I bought a tractor last weekend. Here it is, sitting at home! (Weird pyramid in the background? Our ingenious method for storing 800 lb square bales!)
Owning a tractor will make a huge difference in my ability to manage the summer feed for the sheep. Mowing suppresses parasite populations and encourages tender regrowth. Being able to clean out my own barn, move large objects and potentially make my own hay is well beyond the point I hoped to be at this stage of my business. I’m really excited, as you can see:
Moving the tractor from Bakersfield to Williston took all day. Matt’s brother’s sweetie’s dad generously lent us his F350 and trailer, allowing us to move the tractor and all of its accompanying implements in one go. The best way to learn to drive a tractor is to drive up and down a narrow ramp a few times with heavy items attached to the hydraulics. I got skillful, quickly.
Back at home, Matt has commenced rewiring and refurbishing. The tractor has low hours and is in fabulous shape, but it shows the typical signs of being 20 years old. Wiring is loose or deteriorated, rubber seals and gaskets need replacing, and a little paint wouldn’t hurt the thing either. I’m gunning for sparkles, but we’ll see what Matt has to say.
I talk a lot about moving sheep from one pasture to another, but not much about what’s actually in those pastures. While we may picture sheep just munching huge mouthfuls of grass, their actual eating habits are very much the opposite. Sheep move around the pasture selecting the tenderest, freshest morsels while completely ignoring old foliage and tough stems. They also have plants that they prefer over others. I’ve gotten my sheep to eat bedstraw mainly by having plenty of it available after the clover, vetch and soft grasses are gone.
Clover is the mainstay protein source in the pasture. Like all legumes, clover fixes nitrogen from the air and adds it to the soil. It’s a nutritious plant, and it’s easy to tell when the sheep have eaten it all because a field that once was full of clover flowers suddenly has none at all!
Vetch is another mainstay legume in my pasture that the sheep love. I happen to think that it’s very beautiful, as well. I wish I knew more about the nutrition that Vetch provides other than protein, or if the dominance of Vetch in some areas indicates something about the soil nutrients or structure.
Dairy folks know what this is: This photo is actually the first alfalfa I’d ever noticed in the wild. It is certainly the only one that was in this field, so some lucky sheep got to eat this plant. Alfalfa is the highest-protein legume and is a staple of dairy cow rations. I’ve heard through anecdata that sheep are picky about it in hay, but they don’t mind eating alfalfa pellets!
I haven’t even touched the myriad of grasses that grow in the pastures where the sheep live, but suffice it to say that the legumes have long since vanished by the time the sheep are eating grass.