CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Capella Grazing Project

Capella Grazing Project is a  community-supported initiative to develop grazing as an integrative new model within sustainable agriculture. Using a holistic approach to ranching and animal management, we seek to integrate grazing as a service to agriculture and land use.  Seven of the rare little Ouessant ewes that arrived last fall are at work on a small vineyard in Green Valley, western Sonoma County. Engaging our Ouessant sheep to mow lawns in vineyards, clear weeds, and provide manure/cover crop removal for vegetable growers, we are using a natural technology that is 12,000 years old. The feedback from this project will be useful in the future for those interested in incorporating Ouessants into their farms, gardens and parks.

The oessant working on clearing

Ouessants at work      photo by Mary Olsen

 

Vineyard and small farm seasons dovetail nicely with range land grazing seasons.  Vineyards utilize grazing while grapes are dormant, from about October to March. March to June or July is the time to graze hillsides, reducing new green grasses and brush– that left otherwise unchecked dry into a fire hazard come August. July through October is major harvest time for fruit and vegetable growers, who can use the manure and grazing on fields just harvested. Instead of using a large piece of property in isolation to raise an agricultural product, I view sheep and other animals as a valuable cog in a whole system, which benefits from many layers of function, integrating many different components into a whole ecosystem. By utilizing sheep for their services, as well as their products, CGP strives to reincorporate healthy animal care and fiber production into mainstream agriculture.

The Ouessant sheep help to promote ancient genetic diversity by helping to keep alive a primitive breed with excellent fiber. Values for its soft, spongy, and abundant qualities, Ouessant fleece comes in many colors, from a shade of burnt dark brown to milk chocolate, to creamy tan. Ouessants have very sweet and genial personalities, which I believe carries over into the wool. If you spin, felt, or do other fiber arts, I hope you’ll try it out and tell me if you find this to be true.

Capella Grazing Project relies on sponsors to successfully complete this first grazing season. Sponsors help cover the costs and in return can receive raw wool, visit their sheep on the ranch, get manure and mulch, attend shearing day in spring, take advantage of the lawn-mowing services  and…name their own sheep. If you’re interested in sponsorship you can make contact through the website:  www.capellagrazing.wordpress.com.

Marie Hoff and her flock of Ouessant sheep live at Green Valley Community in western Sonoma County. She’s a UC Berkeley grad who studied dance and the performing arts. Through work at the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market Marie met farmers and ranchers who introduced her to the farming life of west Sonoma County. She’s spent the last two years apprenticing at various sheep farms, culminating in the inception of the Capella Grazing Project last fall. She’s on a sheep ranch in New Zealand until March, but can still be reached through http://www.capellagrazing.wordpress.com/.

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