Keeping the land in “sheep” shape

August 8, 2018

Posted in: News Articles

Keeping the land in “sheep” shape

Have you seen the flock of sheep grazing along the Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail this summer? Our partners at Sonoma County Regional Parks (Regional Parks) are working with Sweetgrass Grazing to graze a portion of the Laguna Trail, which runs through our Balletto Ranch Conservation Easement and City of Santa Rosa Farms Conservation Easement properties. The purpose of the grazing project is to benefit native plants (including the critically endangered Sebastopol meadowfoam), increase biodiversity, reduce invasive plant species, and reduce fuels. We were happy to allow this ecologically-critical grazing project on our protected land.

“Grazing reduces the use of pesticides and the need to mow,” says Regional Parks Natural Resources Manager Hattie Brown. “It also helps restore the wetlands to their natural state and keeps the sheep well-fed doing what they instinctively do best.”

Sweetgrass Grazing is managing a flock of 280 sheep using high-intensity, short-term rotational grazing. The sheep spend about one day grazing an approximately 1-acre paddock lined with temporary electric fencing, after which point shepherds rotate the sheep into the next paddock. They first eat invasive pepperweed and reed canary grass, both of which are still green this time of year. Once they’ve tackled those species, the sheep begin eating other grasses within the paddock. As they walk throughout the paddock, the sheep’s hooves break up the thatch (the layer of dead grass that has accumulated over the past year), reducing the amount of fuel on the property and making room for native vegetation to flourish. The sheep arrived on Balletto Ranch in early July and will be on site through mid-August for a total of 6-8 weeks.

This project was made possible by a collaboration of partners including Sonoma County Regional Parks, Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation, City of Santa Rosa, City of Sebastopol, Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, Sonoma County Water Agency, and us.

Be sure to check out this video about the project featuring Dr. Wendy Trowbridge from the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and Hattie Brown from Regional Parks.