Around the States

Around the States


Sheep Grazing Restores Bird Habitat

More than 400 sheep spent the spring grazing at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve to restore habitat for a number of bird species, including grasshopper sparrows, Western meadowlarks, burrowing owls and white-tailed kites.

Once home to the greatest number of Santa Barbara County’s grasshopper sparrows, the foothills below San Marcos Pass saw the ground-nesting birds’ numbers dwindle to zero after cattle grazing ceased around 2008. Too much thatch – or fallen plant matter – had accumulated between the bunches of grass, which became thickly overrun with non-native species like ripgut brome.

Channel Islands Restoration’s Elihu Givertz, his team, and more than a thousand volunteers have been bringing native plants back to the county preserve, often through painstaking hand-planting. To give native grasses a fighting chance, areas dominated by non-natives are being munched by ewes brought in by Jenya Schneider and Jack Anderson of Cuyama Lamb, which is part of Quail Springs Permaculture.

Givertz called the grazing project part of a “paradigm shift” among environmentalists, who have come to recognize the value of grazing species in habitat ecosystems. For the two-year sheep study, he selected 30 zones of differing characteristics, with a few control areas that are sheep-free. The theory is that by running 400-plus sheep for a day across an acre, they’ll eat what’s there, rather than what they prefer, and trample seeds and stems underfoot and into the ground before being moved the next day to the next acre.

Givertz and Mary Martin, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, recently observed four-inch native grasses sprouting greenly in a zone the sheep had grazed only the week before. Because the roots of native grasses are much deeper than non-natives’ — about 10 feet versus 2 feet — they are expected to survive the sheep incursion and come back stronger than the non-natives.

“The soil is more alive,” said Givertz, as the deeper roots support a cosmos of microorganisms, nutrients and moisture.

Fish & Wildlife granted $25,000 for the restoration effort – part of its Partners program with landowners to improve habitat. The flock of sheep is one part of Channel Islands Restoration’s plan, which includes native plantings, seed collection and propagation, monitoring and a robust volunteer program. The County of Santa Barbara contributed another $21,000, with the remainder of the $50,000 budget coming from donations to the non-profit Channel Islands Restoration, Givertz said, in part from REI and the coalition that established the preserve.

The Rambouillet-Targhee sheep spent about four weeks in the foothills before moving to their next assignments, an apple orchard in Cuyama and then some vineyards in late fall. By this time next year, Givertz hopes the cycle repeats at the San Marcos preserve, accompanied by even more birdsong.

This story by Jean Yamamura first appeared in the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Independent.


Rathke to Lead Advanced Shearing School

In addition to the annual spring and fall shearing schools sponsored by the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, Ohio will also be hosting an intermediate and advanced sheep shearing school scheduled for the weekend of July 27-28 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Dave Cable Farm in Hebron, Ohio.

As a note, the Ohio State Fair sheep shearing contest will be held on Friday, July 26, beginning at 10 a.m. in the sheep barn show arena. Those interested in participating or viewing are encouraged to join.

The intermediate and advanced shearing school will be led by Doug Rathke, a professional sheep shearer from Minnesota. Rathke is recognized both nationally and internationally for his shearing skills as he has represented the USA Shearing Team at the Golden Shears World Sheep Shearing Championships in 1996, 1998, 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2010. For more information about Rathke and his shearing experiences, check out his website at

The intermediate and advanced sheep shearing school is intended for those shearers that are searching for additional skills, techniques and guidance to improve their speed and efficiency of shearing. In the course of the two-day training, shearers will learn how to improve their shearing time by properly positioning the sheep, understanding the importance of footwork and reducing the number of shearing strokes used per animal. In addition, participants will learn how to sharpen their own combs and cutters, as well as be exposed to different exercises that will help them prepare for each shearing event.

Participants are expected to bring their own shearing machine (electric or shaft driven). For those interested in this event, registration is required.

Go to to register. The cost to attend is $175, which includes a meal for both days. For those with further questions, contact Rathke at 320-587-6094, 320-583-7281, or


Pipestone to Host Sheep for Profit School

Mark your calendar and plan to attend the 2019 Pipestone Lamb and Wool Sheep for Profit School, which will be held on July 10-13 in Pipestone, Minn.

This will be the 10th course offering with 173 past participants from 23 different states and Canada completing the course. The Sheep for Profit School is a professional management and business school for the sheep industry. The purpose of the school is to help students improve sheep management skills, increase the profitability of sheep operations and form relationships in the American sheep industry.

The school will be intense and combine lecture, group discussion and visits to outstanding Pipestone area sheep operations. Expert instructors with diverse and practical sheep experience will help students define their vision and build a practical plan to achieve goals. This three-day investment will change students’ sheep operations and their view of the sheep industry.

Enrollment in the school is limited to create an ideal learning environment and allow for one-on-one advising. Visit for registration information and a course schedule.

For more information, contact the Pipestone Lamb and Wool Management Program at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, P.O. Box 250, Pipestone, MN 56164, call 800-658-2330 or e-mail

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