The Crush - April 2020 - 1
Volume 47 Issue 4 April 2020
[ FEATURE STORY ]
Utilizing Grazing Animals in Vineyard Management
SHEEP PROVIDE WEED CONTROL, FARMING SYSTEM BENEFITS
By Ted Rieger
Although the use of sheep and other grazing animals for weed
control and cover crop management in vineyards is not new,
more California growers are using grazing animals for vineyard
management operations. Some winegrape growers own and
maintain year-round sheep flocks in their vineyards and adjacent
lands; the sheep are fully integrated into farming operations
and serve as a source of income from lamb and wool sales.
Other winegrape growers rent sheep from local shepherds or
from grazing service providers for specific management tasks at
specific times as needed.
Potential uses and benefits of sheep grazing in vineyards include:
* Weed control to reduce or eliminate herbicide use.
* Fewer machine passes and less fossil fuel use for mowing,
spraying and tillage.
* Cover crop management in no-till vineyards with soil carbon
* Weed control in hillside vineyards with reduced erosion risks,
and reduced safety risks associated with human labor and
* Potential vine/canopy management such as trunk suckering,
shoot hedging and leaf removal.
* An alternative to human labor issues related to availability,
worker hours/overtime regulations, while allowing human
laborers to perform other essential operations.
* An integrated farming system suitable for sustainable, organic
and biodynamic certifications.
OVIS CYCLE MANAGEMENT
The Shannon Ridge Family of Wines farms 1,000 acres
in Lake County with a year-round sheep herd of about
1,200 head. The sheep are integrated into
vineyard management for a sustainable
farming system the company calls the
High trellis system at Paicines Ranch designed to integrate sheep into vineyard
management. Photo: Alicia Arcidiacono
"ovis cycle." As described on the Shannon Ridge website, "The
vineyards feed the sheep, the sheep feed the vines, lamb feeds the
people, people drink wine and wear wool."
Owner Clay Shannon said sheep are put into the vineyard in fall
after harvest to "sanitize" the vineyard by cleaning up weeds,
leftover fruit and vine leaves. In winter, the ewes begin lambing
to produce about 1,500 lambs each year, sold as grass-fed meat to
high-end restaurants in Northern California. In spring, the sheep
are in the vine rows weeding, grazing cover crops, fertilizing
and removing trunk suckers, and they are sheared for wool - a
renewable resource. In summer, the sheep continue weeding, do
leaf removal in the vine canopy, and "mow" non-crop areas to
provide fire control.
Shannon Ridge uses the sheep operation as a major point of
differentiation to highlight its sustainable farming program, and
to label and market wine brands that include Ovis and Old Pearl,
named in honor of the dogs that herd and protect the sheep.
The Crush - April 2020
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