The study is designed to assess the effects on range condition of adding sheep on rangeland grazed exclusively by cattle for the last 50 years. Current grazing practices have led to an increase in herbs and shrubs, reducing the grass component of the rangeland.
The second portion of the study seeks to investigate the use of sheep for leafy spurge control on small, isolated infestations within the pasture boundary.
Monitoring plots were established in July 2003, but due to labor constraints, we were unable to complete the necessary fencing until spring 2005. To realize any tangible results for this project we felt a minimum of five years data collection was needed. Summer of 2006 will be the first year we can graze the sheep in the project area, allowing us to collect data from our monitoring plots. Our present monitoring consists of photo plots in areas infested with leafy spurge. In time, we will look at overall range trend as sheep are reintroduced in areas that they have not grazed in 50 years. It is hoped we will learn if sheep seek out and graze these isolated areas of spurge and negate our need to use chemical controls in these areas.
We hope to show one can add a sheep enterprise to an operation on a smaller scale for profitability. We also hope to determine if sheep will seek out and graze weed infestations. If they do, it will have a complementary effect to other biological and chemical weed control measures. We also plan to generate some economic data that will show some cost-benefit ratios to adding sheep to an operation.
We hope to show that by using sheep you can add an income-generating enterprise to complement an existing cattle operation and actually improve overall range health. Using sheep can help control certain invasive weed species, which in turn will open up more areas for cattle to use.
One rule of thumb we followed is that one ewe per one cow can be run without decreasing the total AUMs available on your ranch. If we can substantiate this premise, it could have a dramatic effect on overall ranch profitability. If sheep also seek out and graze isolated areas of leafy spurge, they will have a multiple economic impact such as fewer chemicals used, labor decreased and ultimately more dollars in producers’ pockets.
Thus far, most of the outreach has been word-of-mouth with ranching peers at meetings and conventions. We also hosted a group of country agents during the spring of 2003 and shared our project goals.