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WOOSTER, Ohio — Few Ohio producers have the grazing aspect down as well as Curt Cline, who raises sheep in of Athens and Meigs counties.
He was a featured speaker during the Buckeye Shepherds Symposium Dec. 8 on a panel called “Ways to Better Utilize your Forages with Pasture Hay.”
He currently has 300 ewes and 85 replacement lambs from this year’s crop and practices intensive grazing management, even strip grazing some pure alfalfa stands.
When Cline first took over the farm in the early 1990s, he developed a large hay business. But by 2002, he’d sold almost all of the equipment.
“It generated some cash flow, but it also flowed my nutrients off the farm,” he said.
Today, his lambs are raised on grass, with lambs on pasture 10 days after they lamb.
The Clines run 130,000-140,000 pounds of sheep per acre, and are sometimes moving the sheep every day.
His advice was to match your forage to your soil type, and consider renovating pastures and reseeding with newer seed genetics.
He currently has a SARE grant to graze lambs on standing corn before the ear developed. In the early stage of the corn growth (thigh high), the 40- to 50-pound lambs gained only 1/10th of a pound per day, but as they got older, by September, the lambs were gaining 1/2 pound/head/day.
Producers take the lambs out when the corn starts to tassel, because protein drops, but they can bring the lambs back in later.
Jeff and Kathy Bielek, of Wayne County, raise a small 30-ewe flock on 14 1/2 acres.
They raise primarily breeding stock and have focused on soil fertility because the farm they bought had been in no-till for more than 50 years, and was very low in pH (5.3-5.5).
After fertilizing, applying poultry litter and urea, and finally triple 19, they’ve been able to bring it up to 6.3 pH.
They have 1-acre paddocks that can be subdivided depending on forage growth, and number of head. “We graze by the square feet,” Jeff Bielek said, and Kathy added, “We’ve pastured our yard many times.”
Kevin Fowler, of Ashtabula County, has his own seed distribution company and also raises 50 ewes and corresponding lambs.
Fowler now uses Cheviot rams, but started with primarily Dorset and Suffolk stock. His farm direct markets to a strong Cleveland and Geauga County market. The Fowlers have 35 acres of permanent pasture that they rotate the flock, and systematically improve/renovate pastures.
He bought his current farm in 2001. It was previously in CRP and was primarily cheap ryegrass and fescue and timothy. He put seven wire fencing, with alternating hot wires, around the perimeter, and divided the pasture further into 2-1/2 acre paddocks. He can typically get 4-6 days out of a paddock.
Based on his soil test, phosphorus is his limiting factor. He’s worked to update the grass genetics, and uses a foliar fertility program. He now averaged 1,000-pounds of sheep/acre.
Even in this year’s drought, he only had to feed hay about four weeks in the summer (Ashtabula County is a late spring, wet location, and fared the drought better than many Ohio locations). He grazes six to seven months out of the year (because of the location, his target to get out on pasture is May 1).
Also on the panel was Bruce Rickard, who farms in Knox County.