Our guest writer for today is Laura Flood on her using sheep for mountain property firewise prepping. I hope you enjoy her story.
Cattle, horses, sheep, lawnmowers and weed eaters. Three are peaceful, the others are noisy and wear out your joints and pocketbook!
A recent quote I obtained, to mow and weed-eat my little half acre, was between $300 and $425 dollars! That did not include trimming the oak leaves and branches to make it firewise.
After the season of wonderful rain in Groom Creek, Arizona, which lies about 7 miles south of Prescott, in the Bradshaw Mountains, we have native grasses, pigs ears, foxtails and new shoots of oak brush everywhere!
A few years ago, I decided to look for sheep for sale to graze my property and enjoy the peace of letting them quietly crop the vegetation. Family and near-by children and adults also enjoyed visiting. I found an ad in Chino Valley and the seller turned out to be a young man who was the son of an old friend who had recently returned from Afghanistan.
I headed out to Chino and saw the little flock of white sheep that I learned were St. Croix Hair sheep.* I chose two and loaded them in the little wood trailer my friends, Mark and Jessiann, loaned me and brought them home. Jessiann and I unloaded them near the corral, where I let them see the safety of the green pipe corral with a cover, matts, and mesh wire around the bottom so the dogs couldn’t hop in there- especially my overly interested Jolly, the Border Collie/Aussie.
During the next couple months, I saw daylight emerge under the thick oak brush bushes, which is always my goal for being both firewise and to be sure no creepy crawlers are hiding. I gave “Prancy” and “Dancy” (handles that fit their dainty quick movements) about a flake of orchard grass each day to munch on between time in the corral when I was away and at night. They cropped the tall grasses and were a joy to have. When it was nearing November, I put an add on Craigslist and a family bought the pair to add to a small herd they were building. It was time well spent and I didn’t have to buy and store a lawn mower and walker around with my right arm swaying back and forth for hours using a weed-eater.
After buying and selling a sweet Red Roan horse in 2020 to ride and graze a bit; I had not been able to find a border for his temporary barn buddy and he was lonely. Purchasing two wasn’t in my budget and the cleaning up after one horse was quite enough on my small place. I need to constantly throw out horse apples, as my Kanga “Roo” pup would roll in them and consume a lot of this reprocessed hay. I found they did not do this with the small sheep droppings, which dried out quickly.
The last two autumn seasons, I acquired Suffolk sheep from a large farm in Paulden, owned by Barbara Killian and her retired veterinarian husband, Myles Killian. Barbara raises top quality Suffolk sheep and has been a 4-H leader for decades.
Agent 64, came to me as the name of one of the sheep that was very observant, if not a little suspicious, and Olive was just sweet and confident. I learned with the sheep that when it was time to put them in their shelter for the night, there is no need to grab halters or push them from behind yelling, is the way with some livestock. The Shepherds job is to go in front of them and call quietly and they follow you, trusting where you are taking them. Very sweet. They did a very good job in the few weeks they were at my cabin home.
The following year, per the abundant rains and overly abundant weeds and grasses, I requested three ewes from Barbara. She was coming my way and brought them out in a livestock trailer. They unloaded and went to town.
During theses short grazing visits, it is a simplistic time of renting animals, without ownership duties such as shearing, veterinarian care etc.
Of course, I was responsible for their safety and well-being, i.e., providing fresh water, salt, and a roof over their head during stormy weather, and safety from predators. Fortunately, my half acre is all fenced, with no-climb fencing over the five-foot-tall wooden posts on the roadside, and the same fencing attached to metal t-posts in the back of the property. The dogs have a separate yard up the hill and were kept in it when the sheep were out grazing.
Other necessities on my place, were putting fence barriers around my garden, such as the corn, tomatoes, strawberries and flowers. They did find there way into a few of these items, though they did not care for geraniums or zucchini. The abundant rain also grew lots of mushroom, which I pulled up and threw out, although they left a few stray ones alone that popped up before I got to them.
I also found with the three ewes this year, they became curious occasionally when I was inside and would come look in the windows and park out on the porch now and then. I barricaded a few areas and if they relaxed in the carport too long, I would walk out in the grass and weeds, talking to them in an upbeat tone and they would take the hint to get back to work. My niece and nephews enjoyed learning about them and watching their unique personalities.
Inquiries from neighbors surfaced and we talked about where and how they could acquire sheep to graze down their properties. I also shared the preference for sheep over goats. I found them more suitable for my small place. I had kept goats in a larger property I lived in the past and found sheep more docile and easier to handle. For the country home or business where it isn’t feasible to do a controlled burn or pay for high-priced labor – sheep may work for you. If you are tired of performing time-consuming physical work yourself, weed-eating and mowing around rocks and hilly areas – ten twelve times during Arizona’s long growing season – sheep are a great answer!
Next blog I will have information on the St. Croix sheep Laura mentioned in this article. There are several ranches/farms that raise these sheep in Arizona.