I think we’ve probably all heard of chicken tractors and the benefits of moving chickens to fresh ground regularly, but what about using the same concept for larger animals? Last year I came up with the idea of sheep tractors. It was an idea born of desperation. My husband had issued an ultimatum, figure out how to keep the sheep confined or they would have to go. We had wasted a lot of time and money on a variety of electric fencing designs because I wanted to be able to rotate them often for pasture health and parasite control. Wool is a great insulator and my sheep were incredibly stubborn and just knew if they blew through the fence, they could get all kinds of tasty treats including chicken feed. This often resulted in scenes such as the one pictured below.
Amusing as that might be, it led to a lot of wasted feed and one dead sheep from overeating. The expense of dividing up all our pasture with permanent fencing was out of the question so moveable pens were born.
The most important feature of any pen we designed was that it had to be possible for one person (usually me, a 35 year old female of average strength who often has a three year old on one hip) to move it. Cattle panels were an obvious choice to work with. Each pen consists of 4 cattle panels. Most are 4 full panels resulting in a pen that is 16’x16’. We have one pen that is 8’x8’ which is great for getting into tighter spaces. We found that the pens were easiest to move if we made runners. This was achieved by bending under the bottom row of squares on two panels opposite each other. You end up with a 90 degree angle and the panel has its own runner. We then bend over the top row on the other two panels on opposite sides. This makes the pen more stable and it maintains the shape of a square better. Pens made with the panels without runners bow more and end up looking like a big circle. Add a tarp over one corner and you’ve got shelter from the elements. I always use the more expensive silver tarps. They are more durable and provide cooler shade under a hot summer sun than the blue or brown tarps. My sheep are all Shetlands and Icelandics so protection from the hot sun is much more important than from the cold. If you look closely at this picture you can see the bend at the top of the panel for an example.
I originally intended just to move these pens through my pastures just like my chicken hoop houses. The great thing about them is that I can target problem areas where I want the sheep to clear weeds or brush. I kept them on one particular hillside that was infested with ragweed. My sheep absolutely love ragweed and will even act somewhat offended if I move them to a spot that has just grass! This worked well so when our lawn tractor died this spring, I moved some sheep pens into the yard. I mowed all around our house with the sheep. We were able to completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels for mowing except for a very small area in front of the house where our children play which we mowed with a push mower exactly twice this year. I have used these pens to clear some ridiculously tall weeds.
I'm not sure why this picture is smaller but hopefully you can see that the weeds I'm clearing are over twice as tall as the pen.
Voila! The same space a week or so later. Beautiful grass grew back in this area and I was able to graze it a few more times before our growing season was over.
I love my sheep pens. I moved them usually twice a day and other than being careful not to run over my own feet (it really hurts if you're wearing sandals) they have worked well for me. I would think they would work well for anyone looking to keep some livestock without putting up a lot of fencing especially if you are on rented land or wanting to do targeted mowing and clearing as I do.