We used our little Unity College FFA Farm club herd of Hampshire sheep to mow the Woodsmen's field for part of last year. It was a little controversial, because (somewhat woodenly) the summer farm staff were supposed to ask the Woodsmen and didn't. They also added cows, which are less careful with their manure, plopping it around the place in big plops that are hard to break down. And they allowed the grass to grow tall, after which the animals just trample it down.
So the Woodsmen's coach got mad at the farm staff for messing up the field. I was at home spending two months building a barn and not watching the shop. The FFA Farmers got a bad rap, and I had to apologize on their behalf to the Woodsmen's coach. Ouch. But everything was fixed by the start of the school term.
This little spot of trouble should not be seen to prove that properly used sheep and properly trained shepherds cannot produce good results. And the use of sheep to mow lawns is still by far the best and cheapest system. Back in the day, when the Europeans invented the country park in the 18th Century, sheep were the primary mowers of lawns, and if you wanted a close cropped sward, you had to have close-cropping sheep. It was only in the 19th century that the Victorians invented the lawnmower, right about the time they invented the suburb. Suburbanites wanted lawns but had no time to manage sheep. Sheep kept on grass produce less methane, and can import fertility to the lawn if managed with that in mind. A rotational grazing system is best. Mobile electric fencing can be used to control the level of grazing. Aimee and I do this at home, and only use our lawn mower, or a scythe, for whacking the unpalatable weeds the sheep can't eat. If properly controlled, sheep crop grass very nicely, as you can see from the results in the Womerlippi Farm picture above, and sheep manure is broken down very quickly in high summer.
So, if you come to Unity College this summer, expect to see the odd, seemingly out-of-place sheep. It's really the lawn mower that's out of place. (Sorry, Ivan.)
Sheep replace lawn mowers in Turin parks
Tom Kington in Rome
In a bid to keep its municipal lawns trim while saving money, the city of Turin has done away with lawn mowers and brought in 700 sheep to graze in two parks.
Turin police blocked roads last Thursday as the first flock moved in to tackle the Meisino park, part of a two-month stint which city officials say will save €30,000 (£24,000) on gardeners' fees.
Shepherds brought up the herd, carrying 16 newly born lambs belonging to the flock, which will now be left to graze at the park on the city's outskirts until the grass is cricket-pitch smooth.
The scheme was tested last year with cows and sheep, but the cows were not invited back after leaving behind too much dung.
"I came here last year as well and it worked out really well," said shepherd Federico Tombolato after leading his flock back into Turin. "The city saved money and kept the park clean, while I saved money by not having to rent fields to graze my sheep."
A second flock is scheduled to descend today on the Sangone park. In both parks the sheep are kept in fenced-off sections and then moved on when the grass is trim. Signs will be erected to inform park goers why hundreds of sheep have temporarily replaced joggers and dog walkers.
After the two-month stay in the city, the sheep will be withdrawn to Alpine pastures for the summer.