Monday, July 21, 2008

Urban shepherds and rural escapes

No, not a travel article. Below is an article from the Guardian about the use of sheep to reduce mowing in a British park. And to the left are the pictures of our own college sheep doing much the same thing, albeit in a rural setting at the MOFGA Fairgrounds, along with Sustainability Coordinator and Farm Manager Rob Beranek and summer shepherd Robbie Johnston..

All this talk of mowing lawns with sheep is m-ewe-sic to my ears. One benefit of moving our own sheep to the much drier Fairgrounds is that the mild but chronic hoof-rot they were plagued with this summer has gone. This fall we plan to build a barn with a concrete slab floor to give them drier housing for the winters, which should permanently alleviate the condition.

Unfortunately, we've had some difficulties with escapes at MOFGA. Not enough fence of the correct 48 inch double-wire spec for dry ground use, and so the grass is always greener. But we're learning slowly. Robbie is learning to move them frequently enough, and to build the fence strong each time, to prevent these escapes, and Haggis, our own Womerlippi Farm sheepdog is getting some good open-ground sheep-rounding-up practice not available here at home where the sheep know where to go and the job is easy.

The rise of the urban shepherd

* Karen Dugdale
* The Guardian,
* Monday July 21, 2008

'It's not often you go from your day job to turning a sheep over and inspecting its hooves," says Brigitta Richards. A nursery nurse, Richards is one of a growing number of volunteer shepherds recruited by Brighton and Hove city council as part of an initiative to reintroduce grazing to its urban parks, after an absence of more than 50 years. "It gets me out and about, and you're doing something to protect and conserve the environment as well."

"We've been working on this for about a decade," explains countryside ranger Lisa Rigby. "Having successfully grazed other sites on the outskirts of Brighton, we're now looking to up the ante."

While encountering sheep is nothing out of the ordinary for country dwellers, it may prove more of a shock to city folk taking a stroll. But introducing hardy rare breeds such as herdwicks and southdowns to Wild Park, which is flanked by large council estates...#65279;, this winter may encourage greater flower and insect diversity. The idea is that the sheep's idiosyncratic grazing patterns - some nibble bushes while others prefer chomping coarse terrain - will re-establish different levels of grass (good breeding ground for rare species), gradually replacing the aggressive approach of industrial mowing.

Rigby is keen to highlight the communal benefits. "You can't underestimate the value of livestock, the feelgood factor. A lot of people will go just to see the sheep."

But what about city dog owners? Won't they feel aggrieved at having their daily routines interrupted by the park's new inhabitants? It would seem not. Many of the respondents to a recent advert for watchers, according to Ribgy, are dog owners themselves - in her view ideal candidates because they are out every day.

So what does being a watcher involve? After a one-day introductory course on sheep-related welfare - including how to untangle a ewe from a fence - you sign up to a rota for as many hours as you can spare; no uniform or special equipment required, simply a mobile to ring in your report and a willingness to count sheep.

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