Kiger Family Vineyard

babydoll Sheep
(Sorry! We have no sheep/Lambs available to sell.)


 

it takes a lot of sheep to make great wine!


Our vineyard practices are based on healthy and environmentally sustainable farming. Since 2006, one of the key elements of our program is a flock of Babydoll Southdown sheep that lives in the vineyard for 6-8 months from post-Harvest to bloom.

The sheep keep down unwanted vegetation by eating grass, cover crops, and weeds in the vineyard. This greatly reduces the need to mow, which then reduces compaction of the soil by heavy equipment and lessens use of fossil fuels.

And they help improve the health of the soil. With the sheep eating the grass and weeds, we've eliminated the need for herbicides to kill the unwanted vegetation that competes with grapevines. A bonus is the sheep manure, which looks like black jelly beans. Part of the makeup of the manure is the digested, nutrient-rich green plant matter, which becomes a natural fertilizer for the soil.


The sheep also add diversity to our agricultural ecosystem and they're really pleasant and amusing to have around! It's fun to watch them move through the vine rows. They're small enough that they can walk right under the lowest trellis wire. But not so small that they can't reach the tender young green shoots that burst through in late March/early April. We trialed an electrified wire that runs parallel to the trellis lines near the fruiting wire in Spring 2014, and were impressed with how effectively it kept the sheep from getting to the new green growth! This lets us leave the sheep attending to the vineyard floor well into the Spring, eliminating at least one mowing pass. After our sheep are evicted from the vineyard, they and the dogs and hens move into the wooded, fenced-in acreage behind our house.


Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD): Francesco (pronounced fran-CHESS-ko) is our 130 pound Maremma; along with his nearly-adult partner Marco, they are chartered with protecting the sheep from animal predation.


In addition to protecting the sheep, they watch over the chickens and also recognizes our cat as family (although Steffi clearly ignores their existence!)

The Maremma breed originated in Italy where they have been used for many centuries as guardians of flocks of sheep and goats. Francesco's parents, Paolo and Cima, were brought from Italy to Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz, California, mountains in May 2004. Francesco was born in October 2006 in their second American litter. Two of his siblings, Tessa and Nicco, are LGDs at Brookfarm, an alpaca ranch 10 miles away from here. Marco, born in March 2013, has a littermate at Canvas Ranch in nearby Petaluma.

Livestock guarding breeds originated in Europe and Asia, where they have been used for centuries to protect sheep from wolves and mountain lions. They are large animals (80-120 pounds) and are usually all white or fawn colored with dark muzzles. Some of the more common breeds are Great Pyrenees (France), Komondor (Hungary), Akbash and Anatolian Shepherd (Turkey), and Maremma.

Unlike sheep herding dogs, like border collies, LGD's do not usually herd sheep. Acting independently, LGD's stay with or near sheep most of the time and aggressively repel predators. Yes, Francesco lives outdoors with the sheep and has never been in the house. Unlike our cats, he has a real job! It's to reduce predation on the sheep (by the mountain lions and coyotes, for example, with which we co-exist), reduce our labor by lessening the need for night corralling, alert us to disturbances in the flock, protecting the ranch property, and allow for more efficient use of pastures.

 

news


Yes, we have no sheep available to sell. Nor do we “hire out” our sheep to others for grazing. Sorry!




Year-round grazing? The trial of an electrified wire running in parallel to the trellis worked like a charm, enabling us to leave the sheep grazing among the vines until June with NO damage to the new shoots.


Additions to the Flock: We lost two of our old boys, Todd and Bucky, but had the good fortune to acquire 3 young wethers last summer. Named Teddy, Red, and King George, these new members of our crew bring our flock size to 12 wooly beasts.



Wool/Fiber Arts: After the sheep are sheared in late Spring, Deb saves a fleece or two for wool projects. She’s currently experimenting with needle felting and natural plant dyes. Her first wearable piece is a shawl made for her mom’s birthday. It featured the natural brown wool of Miss Maple and the collar was a combination of white wool and Marco’s fur!