Feasibility of Integrating Sheep into Vermont Vineyards: An Initial Look at Ecologic and Economic Benefits

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2019: $6,419.00
Projected End Date: 02/29/2020
Grant Recipient: Shelburne Vineyard
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Ethan Joseph
Shelburne Vineyard


  • Fruits: grapes


  • Crop Production: cropping systems, no-till, nutrient cycling, nutrient management, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, permaculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: composting, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    The integration of livestock and cropping systems dates back to early agriculture but was lost with the rise of modern farming methods. Research exploring the benefits of such integration has primarily focused on cattle and pasture relationships. However, in this study, we investigate the potential ecologic and economic benefits of introducing sheep into a vineyard system in Vermont. The state’s winegrowers are eager to adopt new management strategies that have the potential to promote sustainability through reducing environmental impact, improving farm economics, and increasing employee and consumer satisfaction. We will examine elements of these possible benefits by collecting data on soil and vineyard floor species composition, assessing animal health, documenting vine and fruit response to the presence of floor vegetation and sheep, analyzing farm input costs, and lastly, evaluating consumer perceptions of sheep integration. Our results will be made available through several regional online newsletters, a presentation at the 2020 Vermont Livestock and Grazing Conference, as well as with a demonstration day where people can see the sheep among the vines, ask questions, and see how we manage the system.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to develop baseline information for evaluating the potential ecological and economic benefits and challenges of integrating sheep into a vineyard system in Vermont. We have four explicit objectives to explore this integration across the entire integrated system including:

    1. To measure the soil and other ecological outcomes of sheep integration into vineyards, such as fuel savings and soil health
    1. To assess the animal outcomes of sheep integration into vineyards
    1. To understand if grape quality and vine health are affected by sheep integration
    1. To analyze the economic outcomes and consumer perceptions of sheep-vineyard integration
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.