With 3,500 kilometers of mowing to be done every few weeks at his vineyard, winemaker Peter Yealands has come up with a new and novel way to keep the grass under control: miniature sheep.
With the goal of transforming New Zealand’s largest privately-owned vineyard into the most sustainable in the world, Yealands has frequently ventured outside the box to come up with new sustainability ideas, the National Business Review of New Zealand reports.
His latest is about as far outside that box as he can get, with Yealands importing special “baby-doll” sheep, which grow to a mature height of only 45-60 centimeters at the shoulder, to keep the grass trimmed while saving the fruit from grazers who may want to augment their grass-only diet.
He told NBR his main aim was to cut back on the costs of mowing the lawns around his vines and, with the aim of building up a munching flock of thousands of the small sheep, they fit the bill perfectly.
“We have to mow the vineyard about eight to 12 times a year, and you’re talking about 3500 kilometers to travel around the vineyard. To do this, we have seven tractors mowing all the time, and that burns a hell of a lot of fuel.”
Deciding on the small sheep took some trial and error with other animals, with some success — until the predators showed up.
“We investigated the possibility of free range chickens. but you would need millions. So then we looked at geese, but they left too many droppings behind.
“We had some success with some big guinea pigs. We reared a few, contained them in a little six-inch fence and built little huts for them and that worked well. And then the hawks moved in and we ended up with most of Marlborough’s hawks hanging around our vineyard, so that didn’t work.”
Scouring the internet, Yealands first found the breed of miniature sheep in the U.S., but was prevented from importing them due to quarantine issues. But he then found another breeder in Australia.
“This one person in Australia who did it had an incredibly long waiting list, almost all of which were for individual animals which people wanted as pets,” Yealands said. “But I managed to convince her to give me the next few she had coming up, and we’ve imported the first 10 recently.”
With the goal of establishing a base pedigree stock, Yealands has grand plans for the number of sheep he could have roaming over his vineyard, with the goal of keeping up to 10,000 of the animals on his property if the initial batch work out.