By Connie Helstosky, NCF Sheep Grazing Project Technician
Greetings from Squam Farm! This past fall I made the decision to not breed the ewes. Therefore, there will be no lambs this year out at Squam Farm. I do look forward to lambing in the future. As I learn more about targeted grazing and the unique goals for the Nantucket Conservation Foundation Squam Farm sheep program, I have found myself thankful that there are no lambs on their way to dominate my time in the early growing season. Finally, with this difficult winter I am happy that the sheep could put all of their energy into staying warm and healthy.
With the flock growing in size over the past few years, winter holding pastures have been used heavily and could benefit from a rest. With that in mind, a new two acre pasture is currently being permanently fenced in. This pasture will run along the public trail and will be ideal for sheep viewing in all seasons. Richard and Donnie Mack from our Properties Maintenance Crew have been hard at work drilling and setting posts, which eventually will be attached to metal fencing. This will provide us with a hardy, all season fence that can withstand the rigors of Nantucket weather! Be sure to take a walk around Squam Farm and check out the new permanent fence.
The predominant form of fencing used out on the Squam Farm property is a series of plastic posts with four strands of electric wire. This type of fencing, characterized by its orange and black colors, can be moved all over the property. It is impermanent and can be put in and taken out of the ground quite easily. Be careful when viewing the sheep from outside the impermanent fence, because the fence will be hot! This means that a battery charger will be hooked up to the wires keeping the sheep safe inside, but will give you a jolt if you accidentally touch it.
I have been very surprised at how different farming can be in different parts of the northeast. From varying soils to different micro-climates, every farm is unique. My first desire when I began this job was to get an idea of what the soils on Squam Farm looked like. Therefore, I sampled all of the permanent pastures where the sheep spend the winter months and are also used in the fall breeding and spring lambing seasons. The results showed various mineral deficiencies, which is quite common in Nantucket’s sandy soils. Across the board I saw low Calcium and low Sulfur. Therefore, after speaking with a couple agronomists and doing some basic arithmetic, I was able to calculate the required soil amendments to bring up the levels of Calcium and Sulfur. In this case, I will be spreading pelletized lime and gypsum within the permanently fenced pastures at Squam Farm. The reason I chose the pelletized form is due to the fact that the wind out at Squam can be strong and I would hate to lose the lime to a good gust. The hope and what science supports is that once the calcium is in the soil it will promote good bacterial growth and will make nutrients more available to the plants.
With more of the macro and micro nutrients available, the plants will then incorporate these nutrients into its tissues which the sheep then eat. Therefore, by increasing the overall health of the soil, you can in turn increase the overall health of the sheep flock, and reduce supplementation requirements. In order to monitor how liming and adding gypsum to the fields will affect some of the native plants, a project has been created. Throughout the upcoming growing season, the science team and I will monitor a 5 acre pasture. One half of the field will be spread with lime and gypsum, and the other half will not. We will monitor biodiversity throughout the coming season and into the future in order to determine how the plant species in the pasture are being affected by these particular soil amendments.
In order to keep the sheep healthy during the grazing season, I have been trimming hooves, de-worming, and vaccinating – all in hopes that the grass will be growing soon and I can put the flock out to work. In addition, it is the time of year when the sheep get their annual haircuts! Shearing is scheduled for the third Saturday in April (weather permitting), so if you would like to come out and see a sheep shearer in action, be sure to stop by the farm on Saturday April 18th.
Finally, I would love to hear any and all feedback from you, or just about your happy memories out at Squam Farm. As I look toward the future of the program, I plan to incorporate NCF’s land management goals with the community’s interests and my own personal hopes in order to formulate a holistic management plan. The NCF sheep project is a unique program that benefits many, including the land and community of Nantucket Island. I have truly enjoyed the challenges and successes over the past six months and look forward to learning a whole new skill set as the growing season approaches!
Thanks, and I hope everyone has a wonderful and healthy spring!
Connie (I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us! www.nantucketconservation.org