As we contemplate our move to Wisconsin and our acquisition of the property that will become the permanent home of the Low Technology Institute, one thing is for certain: we are going to add to sheep to the chickens and bees that we already keep. While we weighed the options of goats, llamas, cows, and sheep, we’ve landed on the latter for many reasons. We’ll do a post in the future outlining our decision, but in short, they are gentler feeders than goats, easier to handle than cows, and provide a better array of goods and services than llamas. What this post is about, though, is the pens and fences we plan to build to keep our sheep from wandering too far afield.
The fences will be used to create corrals for the sheep and a protected run for the chickens. Some, made of stone, will be permanent and will likely be built closer to the barn. Those made of wood will encircle the different areas where the sheep will be turned out to forage during the day. By having zones, we’ll be able to manage how much they graze in each area. The living fences will be made around areas–like the garden–that are to be kept free of sheep and other grazers such as deer.
The sheep will do more than provide wool, dairy, and meat. As we will be trying to create a variegated landscape of trees, shrubs, and groundcrops, the sheep will perform an important service as they preferentially clear forbs (broad-leaf ground plants). In short, they’ll be our weed-eaters and help transform the local flora. Fences will be used to keep them off of, say, berry bushes.
As a lad in northern Minnesota, my friends and I built “forts” in the woods. To confound imaginary interlopers, we would twist saplings together to create fences of interwoven brush. Unbeknownst to me, this had been a way to cordon off spaces for eons. Instead of driving posts into the ground, living fences link bushes and trees together to form an impenetrable chain. Hedges are a well-known type of living fences, but they can be as complicated as a Belgian fence, where trees are painstakingly pruned and woven into an intricate barrier. As we judiciously clear brush from beneath the trees, we’ll leave 2-ft-wide swaths of brush that we will weave together to help form the different foraging zones for the sheep.
As usual, Mother Earth News has a nice article on this topic, here.
One benefit of living in an area that used to be under glaciers is that it will have plenty of stones. Farmers often pile these up when they hit them with their plows and we plan to obtain fieldstones from nearby farms to build mortar-less walls.
You can see a dry-stone building festival up in Canada from the Mercer Report:
Woven or Wattle Fences
Another type of fence will be built out of wooden posts and cut saplings. These fences look like woven baskets and are probably as old as stone walls. The saplings will come from judicious clearing of the brush understory.
The folks over at Nifty Homestead have amassed a good sample of wattle fences from around the interwebs here.
You can see some of the flexibility inherent in saplings (especially ash and willow) in this video from the Way Out West Blown In Blog: