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Posted 11/26/2009 12:49pm by Catskill Merino.

When the pasture growth slowed as the days got shorter and the daytime temperatures dropped, the ewe flock (~200 hd.) was fenced into an acre and a half.  Not only do we manage the sheep to keep them well fed but we manage the pasture to keep it vigorous by protecting it from overgrazing.  A healthy pasture is a varied ecosystem; it has many interdependent species growing in it; some  of these plants, like the grasses, the sheep will eat and other plants they will avoid because these plants contain toxins that are harmful when consumed in quantities sufficient to provide adequate nutrition to a sheep. 

Sheep must be removed from a pasture well before their only eating choices are species poisonous to them, which they will begin to eat if they have no other option. Pastures are vulnerable too; when the grasses and clovers have been overgrazed the soil in which they grow is exposed to seeds of toxic plants that will germinate, and grow to crowd out the grasses diminishing the amount of useable nutrition in the paddock as the years go by.

Until the grass grows again in the spring, the sheep are fed hay harvested on the farm; and a grain mix of whole oats, cracked corn and soy flakes.  Hay in round bales is provided free choice meaning it is always available to them.  The hay crop was poor this year as the summer rains prevented timely harvest; we supplement the hay with 1 pound of grain per day per sheep.  The sheep love a little grain.

Much is being made of "grass fed" (grain free) livestock; like "organic" it has become a brand regulated by the USDA and that troubles me.  As far as I can tell, there is little science behind the grass fed health claims, either for humans or for livestock, and the extant science seems to be primarily anecdotal: Yes, 100% grass  (pasture raised) is better than 100% grain  (feedlot raised)—or any large grain/grass ratio for a ruminant accustomed to  grazing—you'll agree after having read food guru Michael Pollan. His Power Steer cast light on the darkness of feedlots of factory farms; I  laud him for his gastronomic common-sense and pleasing writing style. 

Tell me this, Michael: Is 100% grass fed better than 85% grass/15% grain, or 90%/10% or another similar ratio favoring grass to grain, a ratio commonly fed by most small farms?  Where is the study, where is the science, where is the proof? 

There is none.

Sheep always tell the truth. And if Dominique is not quick to back away from the ewes, they'll knock her into the feeder and there, butt-up, head-down, ear to ear with the greedy ewes—their molars loudly cracking corn—she'll find herself, proof that a little grain is good for sheep.