Weeding Trials Completed
By Robert Mock
(Originally published in 1994)
During this past spring thru fall,
organic weeding trials in a variety of different orchards, and with a variety of
fruits, nuts, and berries, were conducted in Oregon.
Jacque Rogers provided the sheep and monitored the results.
The only prior information using the
babydolls as weeders came from the gentleman from whom I purchased one of my
first flocks. When I went to
purchase the sheep, they were in the blueberry fields.
It looked like a park, with all of the bushes trimmed up about 30” from
the ground, and the grass looked like mowed lawn.
When I mentioned how pretty the fields looked and that it must take a lot
of labor to keep them that way, his response was that he really did nothing,
that the sheep took care of it. He
said that he had kept the sheep for more than forty years for that reason.
Although he had tried other breeds, including the larger modern day
Southdowns, they had not worked out. They
destroyed the bark and killed the bushes, were hard on the fences, and the rams
were a danger to he and his wife and to the pickers.
The sheep provided organic fertilizer, and he did not supplement with
chemicals. His organic berries
brought premium prices from his “pick your own” customers who also enjoyed
the sheep. He said that many came
back to buy locker lambs or lambs for pets.
His organic locker lambs also brought a premium price, giving him another
cash crop. He summarized the story
by saying that the sale of lambs paid for all the needs of the sheep and that he
no longer needed to pay labor or maintain equipment or purchase chemicals for
the fields. Other advantages were
the sale of wool, very minimum care for the sheep, and in time spent.
They could be gone for any number of days needing only a neighbor to come
and check the water troughs.
When I began to think of how we, as
breeders, would market the excess ram lambs without sending them to slaughter, I
though again about the blueberry fields. From
reading all the organic gardening magazines I could find, it seemed that many
growers of all types of organic fruits and berries were looking for some type of
weed control that was not labor intensive and was organic.
And a good approach to the problem was right out in my pasture.
This elderly gentleman who sold me his sheep had been using a very
workable and practical solution to the problem for over forty years.
After discussing the issue with
Jacque Rogers, it was decided that additional weeding trials need to be done to
see how the sheep would work with other varieties of fruits and berries.
The babydolls were placed in several locations with different types of
fruits, nuts, and berries. In some
cases, other sheep breeds were placed with them to see if other breeds would
also work. In all cases the other
breeds had to be removed quickly to keep them from eating bark and vines.
Reports came back virtually the same
for each trial the babydoll sheep were placed in:
bark or vine damage
cleaned up to approximately 30”
disease problems caused by rotting fruit on the ground
weeds/grass short, ate fallen leaves and fruit
suckers from plums, prunes filberts trimmed off
eliminated the need for manual pruning on grapes
the need for cultivating between rows
organic fertilizer to the soil
The babydolls were also cost
effective. Initial setup cost was higher than manual labor, which
included the cost of sheep at the rate of 5 sheep per acre, fencing,
shelter, and winter feed for the first year.
However, after the initial startup cost, following years were only a
fraction of hired labor expenses, and the sheep were deemed to be more reliable
and often more pleasant to work with. The
sheep, if well cared for, should work for a minimum of 10 years.
This was based on the use of altered males.
If the orchardist wishes to raise sheep, then there is the added income
of the breeder sheep for sale.
As an added note, gooseberries and
currants were caged in mesh wire cages similar to tomato cages.
The sheep kept the leaves cleaned off the sides of the cages, forcing the
fruiting canes to grow up like a fountain out of the top. This made picking much easier without stooping and searching
thru the thorns for the berries.
The trials were considered successful
and gave us much information to pass on to others.
Interest in the sheep as weeders has been very promising.
We would suggest that each breeder contact organic growers in your area
with this information.