Our project was to seek alternative fall grazing crops for our sheep flock. Much literature has been published recently on using brassicaceous, specifically turnips. Many sheep books from the turn of the last century cite pumpkins as an alternative crop for sheep. We thought grazing the sheep in the pumpkin field would be an interesting project to undertake.
We have a 250 head ewe flock and a 100 doe meat goat flock that lamb/kid once a year in May. We raise about 50 feeder pigs a year and maintain a 600 bird layer flock. We also run a small cow calf operation. Since the start of this grant we have added an operating goat dairy of about 50 does, and we bottle the milk under the name Kortright Creek Creamery. We use a rotational mixed species grazing system, and our animals are on pasture eight to ten months of the year. We use about 30 acres of our own land and 300 acres of rented land. We purchase all of our winter feed.
We sowed pumpkins into our 2000-2001 winter feeding paddock in May after our feeder pigs had spent the month of April “tilling” the field after removal of the sheep flock. Drought conditions that spring and summer produced extremely poor growing conditions; the pumpkin crop was a failure. We requested and extension and replanted in 2002.
We again used the same sacrifice paddock planting in May after our feeder pigs spent a month “tilling” the field. The ewe flock was turned into the field in October. A hard frost in September killed most of the pumpkin vines. The sheep began by eating the weeds, and paid little attention to the pumpkin vines. They also paid no attention to the pumpkins. We broke forty or fifty pumpkins open to give the sheep a better opportunity to get a hold on the pumpkins. While many of the ewes ate some pumpkins, many did not. However, we did get a considerable amount of noise from our discontented ewes. After removing the sheep from the paddock, we inserted the pigs. The pigs had no difficulty in determining what it was we wanted them to do. Our yield (pumpkin crop only) per acre was acceptable at 15,000 lbs per acre. However, total dry matter yields were considerably lower than what might be expected with a turnip crop. Add the additional growing time required to produce the pumpkin crop, the results are not encouraging for continue use in this manner for sheep or pigs.
In October of 2002 we held a grazing workshop in conjunction with The Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (an Oneonta NY based agriculture group) at our farm. About thirty people participated in the workshop. We discussed the results of the pumpkin patch experiment with the workshop attendees and listened to their suggestions as to how we could have improved the project. Suggestions included using goats instead of sheep to graze the pumpkin patch or using sheep to graze the vines and the pigs to eat the pumpkins.