The Conscious Farmer Sheep!

The Conscious Farmer Sheep!

Exciting news here at the The Conscious Farmer – we have sheep! And they’re quite lovely and to answer the question on your lips… yes, this will mean lamb! (Just not soon).  Here’s a little insight into why we’ve purchased some sheep and how they fit in with the way we care for the land, soil and biodiversity and how we manage our grazing to achieve this.


The sheep we have bought are young ewes (pronounced ‘youse’, meaning female sheep) that come from an organic farm and we have purchased them to breed from. The offspring from these ewes will be available as Conscious Farmer Lamb down the track.  Like our beef, our lamb will be chemical free and 100% grass fed on our pastures and any shrubs or trees they may browse on.


Why have we purchased sheep?  As a carry-over from the drought, which ended a bit over a year ago, the number of cows that we have is still low and breeding cows are currently very expensive to buy.  (There is high demand with many people wanting to build numbers back up after the drought). Sheep are similarly dear to buy, but here’s why we chose to go with them.


Time to beef or lamb

If we are to buy a cow today, then join her with a bull straight away, she will fall pregnant and be in calf for around 9 ½ months. It will then take at least 12 months for that calf to be of a size and weight suitable for our processing. From a business point of view – that’s a long wait to cashflow. We want the animals going to our beef or lamb to be born on our farm and bred by us, so we know the way those animals have been treated and what they have grazed on – assuring the chemical free and 100% grass fed nature of our product.

Sheep have a gestation period of (are pregnant for) around 5 months and it is then around 6 months until that lamb is of a size and weight suitable for us to process. So you can see that there is a significant difference in the two with regard to a wait for return on investment.


Timing of meat for you

Due to our lower current cow numbers, it will also mean that we will have a gap of some months between beef availability later this year, when we will be between age groups of offspring – waiting for the calves to reach a weight for beef processing. The plan with the sheep is that we hope to have hampers available later this year, which will help to fill this gap when we will have no beef available.


The Budget

We love producing nourishing beef to feed families that are conscious about their health, while at the same time we need to be profitable. Neither Derek nor I have off farm jobs, so the farm is how we make our living. So, in doing our budgets for the coming few years, sheep look like a good financial option for us, alongside our existing cows.


Why White Dorper Sheep?

Being chemical or pesticide free is important to us – for the health of the sheep, for the health of the land, the soil, the worms, for the fungi & bacteria below the ground that work in symbiosis with the plant to make available the necessary minerals for optimal plant health. We care about what all of this means for the health of the beef and lamb.  It’s also important to us for our own personal health, in the product we want to eat and to avoid exposure of using or handling any pesticides.

We avoid worms in our cows by managing their grazing – moving animals to fresh pastures, rather than them staying in the same paddock for weeks or even months. This avoids them ingesting worm eggs from the pastures they have been previously grazing.

The diversity of plants available to the animals also means that they are in optimal health, which ensures their best immunity to ill health.

Sheep come with an extra challenge to cows – this being wool.  We live in an area where our rainfall comes throughout the year, which includes summer rain and storms.  Wet wool, whether it from rain or from urine or poo around their rear end, comes with the risk of fly strike, where a particular fly lays their larvae in the damp wool and the larvae feed on the flesh of the animal. This clearly isn’t very pleasant for the sheep at all and will actually result in the sheep dying if not attended to. The problem is that convention farming methods treat and prevent this with pesticides – something we don’t want to do.  We could explore other organic treatments, but the work is still involved.  This brought us to choosing Dorper sheep, which shed their wool. There is no wool around the tail area where flystrike is of most risk, making them a great option for us as a more manageable chemical free option.


How will they fit into our grazing?

We will apply the same low stress stockhandling techniques with the sheep that we use with the cattle. This doesn’t mean no stress – otherwise we would never be able to move them from one paddock to the next (just as we wouldn’t be able to raise a child with our some discipline and ‘stress’ of saying ‘no’ to certain things). What it does mean is that we put pressure on (to create movement) and then, importantly, we take it off (allow them to walk away from us and out of the stress zone) and the sheep can let down.

Sheep graze differently to cattle in that they have much smaller mouths that can nibble at smaller shoots of green grass. This is very important to  recognise because the way that we ensure diversity and ground cover in our pastures is to ensure that plants aren’t overgrazed. One way that overgrazing can happen is if animals are in a paddock for too long while the plants are growing. They graze a plant down and when it tries to regrow, it uses its stored sugar reserves to grow in the absence of leaf material to photosynthesize. If this new growth is then nibbled off again before the plant is allowed to properly recover and replenish its sugar stores, it will weaken the plant. Repeatedly doing this kills the plants – bare soil occurs where the plant died and either bare earth is present or a weed or plant of lower value germinates in the place.

With their small mouths, sheep can get right down close to the ground to nibble at the very first shoots of re-growth.  Hence, the sheep need to be moved to a new paddock before this regrowth happens, which right now is not quickly, as growth is slow with frosty mornings and drier topsoil. It’s dynamic – changing with the conditions. The approach is the same with the cows; they just can’t nibble at those very small shoots so easily.


Grass Fed Lamb!

So we’re applying all the same principles as we do with our cows and yearlings to bring 100% grass fed, chemical free lamb to you, with a taste that you’ll love, as well as our grass fed beef that you already know and love.