Improving Vineyard Grass and Weed Control through the Incorporation of Babydoll Sheep
Since receiving the grant in April 2008, we have conducted the following work activities and used our grant funds in the following ways:
- Documenting the existing cover crop in vineyard prior to re-seeding the strip surrounding the vines. (4-hours @ $20/hour)
- Conducting soil sample tests on the soil prior to starting the test (1-hours @ $20/hour; $30 testing fee)
- The purchase of seed and re-seeding the 3-foot strip surrounding the vines in 1 acre of the vineyard. (6-hours @ $20/hour; $140 in purchased seed)
- The purchase of materials and installation of a 6-foot electric and woven wire combination fence surrounding the entire vineyard to protect the sheep from predators and keep them in the vineyard. (8-hours @ $20/hour; $1,391 in materials)
- The purchase of materials, installation of, and constant rotation of a 2-foot high portable electric fence. (8-hours @ $20/hour; $139 in materials)
- Evaluating the weeds/cover crop on a bi-weekly basis from July-October (6-hours @ $20/hour)
- The purchase of a shelter for the sheep ($700)
- Vaccines/veterinarian bills for sheep herd ($52)
- Supplemental feed for sheep in winter months (2 bales of hay at $20/bale)
- Lease of land from Jowler Creek Winery, Inc. (3 acres at $75/acre)
- Developing and distributing a press release announcing the grant award and project plans (2-hours @ $20/hour; no additional costs since release was distributed electronically)
Total amount spent as of January 31, 2009: $3,417.00
While we have not officially compiled the results of our study into a concise, formatted summary, following are the key results we have seen following the incorporation of the Babydoll sheep into our operation:
o Elimination of herbicide application – Since the sheep very effectively ate the grass, weeds and other unwanted vegetation in the 3-foot wide strip under the vine rows, we were able to eliminate the use of herbicides in the test plot of the vineyard. This had an estimated value of $390 /acre.
o Less tillage and soil erosion – Since the 3-foot strip of bare ground surrounding the vines was re-seeded with grass, the need to till the soil with a cultivator was eliminated. As a result, less soil eroded throughout the year and less gouges in the ground were visible.
o Decreased dependence on fossil fuels – Fewer passes with the tractor for mowing and spraying, and reduced use of the gas-powered string trimmer to cut the weeds under the vines significantly lowered the amount of fossil fuels consumed. We evaluated this by comparing the amount of fuel used to mow/cultivate the “test” section of the vineyard with the amount of fuel used to mow/cultivate “control” section of the vineyard. This had an estimated fuel savings of $24 gallons, in addition to less carbon emissions being released into the environment.
o Improved soil health – With their small hoofs, the babydoll sheep have compacted the soil much less than the areas used with a tractor. This is visually evident in the rows. Also, the sheep spread natural manure fertilizer that adds to the health of the soil and vines. Later this spring we also plan to evaluate the level of fertility improvement by comparing the results of a soil tests from the “test” and “control” sections of the vineyard.
o Lower costs – Jowler Creek Vineyard purchased the initial flock of 12 sheep for $900. We spent $75 maintaining the flock this year with feed and vet costs. Meanwhile, in the “control” section of the vineyard we spent approximately $190 per acre in controlling weeds and mowing the grass last year (Fuel $20/acre + RoundUp $18/acres X 5 applications). We used the sheep on a single acre of mature Norton vines in 2008. The sheep were able to control the grass and weed growth without the use of herbicide application or mowing. The sheep offset the $190 per acre in direct cash cost. At this rate of return we anticipate breaking even on the start-up costs from incorporating the sheep in the year 2012. However we expect their efficiency to increase in year two and beyond, as these same sheep will be mature and graze more land per unit. Ultimately they could double their efficiency and reduce the time to break even in half.
o Indirect value to marketing and public relations – We also saw a slight increase in families visiting the winery to see the sheep once we released the kick-off press release and a local newspaper and Web site published the press release. While an exact monetary value for this has been somewhat hard to determine, it has added additional income to our farm’s bottom line.
o Increased awareness of sustainable agriculture – There is growing interest among the Midwestern grape growing industry about all areas – environmental, economic, and social – of sustainability. As producers are able to see the benefits of reduced labor, reduced herbicide and less soil erosion, they may be more likely to adopt this – as well as other – environmental, economic and socially sustainable practices on their operations. Project managers will keep detailed records of how many producers call asking about the test, as well as question them about other sustainable practices.
WORK PLAN FOR 2009
This year we plan to continue our project and monitor the continued environmental, economic and social impact the sheep have on our vineyard operation. However, thus far we have considered the project to be very successful and plan to expand the project this year and plan to add more sheep to our flock and will be letting them graze in an additional 2 acres in the vineyard.
This year we shared the information from our project in the following ways:
• Kick-off press release – On July 1, 2008 we distributed a press release providing an overview of the plans and project to local media, general agriculture media, as well as targeted vineyard trade media. In addition, we posted the release on www.missouriwinecountry.com.
• Media/Press tour – On September 7, 2008 we hosted a media tour (in conjunction with AgriMissouri) where five editors from consumer-based, national magazines came to tour the vineyard and see the sheep in action.
In addition to the actions listed above, we plan to use the following tactics to share the information from this project with other producers starting in February 2009:
• Brochure/flyer – The results of the project will be summarized into a concise, one-page brochure/flyer that we will distribute to other producers and consumers. (Anticipated distribution date: March 2009)
• Viticulture Field Day – To help share information with viticulturalists in our local area, we – in conjunction with the Platte County Extension and the University of Missouri viticulture program – plan to host a field day on our farm. The brochure/flyer will be released at this event. (Anticipated field day: March 2009)
• Web site posting – The brochure/flyer will be posted on Jowler Creek’s Web site (www.jowlercreek.com) (Anticipated development/posting date: March 7, 2009)
• Sheep Shearing Party – To share what we are doing with other sheep producers in the area (as well as consumers in the Kansas City metro) we plan to host an event where people can come watch us sheer our sheep. At the same time, we will explain how we use the sheep in the vineyard and the benefits we’ve seen with using the sheep. The brochure/flyer will also be distributed at this event. (Anticipated event day: April 25, 2009)
• Update press release – This release will summarize the results from the project and will be distributed to local media, general agriculture media, as well as targeted vineyard trade media. (Anticipated release date: May 1, 2009)