LOWRY, S.D. (KELO)– Nestled throughout the rolling hills of Rock Hills Ranch, you will find sheep grazing. Their job is to control noxious weeds and native plants that cattle will not graze.
“We brought them in to help control the leafy spurge that we have in some places that we found that they really fit well with just the diverse native prairie that we’ve got, so it’s beyond just weed control it’s just I guess better utilization of our plant community,” said Luke Perman, rancher.
“So the alternative is controlling them chemically or biologically so our attempt has been to try to do it biologically with a combination of that plus the chemicals, but the chemicals tend to be on a spot spray,” said Lyle Perman, rancher.
The 2,000 sheep are at the ranch from mid-May through October and are able to graze areas that the cattle can’t get to.
“The cattle will not graze hillsides like the sheep will. Sheep can graze rough terrain, their hooves are designed for it, so they just graze every acre better than the cattle would,” said Lyle.
Incorporating sheep on a ranch isn’t a new concept, just one that might be considered old-fashioned.
“There’s always been sheep, especially west of here, you know bigger flocks and but over they years they have just kind of declined in population. So we are just kind of doing what people always used to do I guess but it’s something that hasn’t been done in for a generation,” said Luke.
One reason for this gap could be because of the high labor that sheep require. They have guard dogs and donkeys as well as two full-time shepherds to watch over them.
“At about 11 o’clock or noon they will take the sheep from whatever pasture they are in and move them to the water source,” said Luke. “They will leave them there for about 3 to 4 hours in the middle of the day. Then they will come back out at roughly 3 o’clock in the afternoon and take the sheep from the water source to the new pen that they’ve constructed that morning.”
They utilize paddocks not only for rotation grazing but also to keep track of the herd.
“As we saw the benefits of doing that kind of grazing management from a land management standpoint, and just an efficiency of land use standpoint it just made a lot of sense to keep doing it,” said Luke.
“We pick the areas on our ranch that need a treatment, so if they are on four acres a day and we have roughly a quarter a month, that should provide more than enough grazing land for a band of sheep,” said Lyle.
Having more than one species of livestock also creates more diversity in the operation.
“When you have a diverse plant community, that means you might need a diverse community of animals that put pressure on. Otherwise, you could end up with more of a monoculture of undesirable plants if you don’t put equal pressure on all the plants,” said Lyle.
Lyle says it’s important to do your research before adding new species to your farm or ranch.
“You better know what your plant community is before you look at diversifying,” said Lyle. “So you better learn to identify what your resource is and then what kind of treatment are you going to need to get the kind of harvesting that you need so that you have a equal amount of pressure on all plants.”
Creating something good from noxious weeds.
“I mean we are able to take something that costs us money to control and instead it actually generates some revenue for us,” said Luke.
For the most part, the sheep and cattle graze in completely separate areas, because some parts of the ranch are better suited to fit the sheep and their dietary needs.