From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
That’s the motto and battle cry of a fairly new (2011) organization called Urban Shepherds. Its purpose is to encourage grazing sheep on urban and suburban vacant lots, larger lawns, and other grassy areas like school campuses and the acreages surrounding historic sites and factories. You can find out all about this new idea at urbanshepherds.org. The people involved are having a day of training on May 16 at Spicy Lamb Farm near Peninsula, Ohio. Their website tells you how to get there. Spicy Lamb already uses a power line right of way close by to graze its sheep, benefitting the power company and itself, controlling weeds without mowing or nearly so much herbicidal spraying. Cleveland, Detroit and Akron all have Urban Shepherd projects underway and I suspect other parts of the country are getting into this idea. One of the selling points is that if you have a business open to the public, grazing sheep have proven to be a big attraction.
All right. Why should chickens have all the rights to the backyard barnyards of America? I like to think I had something to do with this laudable project at least indirectly. When our daughter and her family moved to the Cleveland area years ago, for the first time I had a chance to observe suburban lawns closely. I was amazed how they stayed green most of the winter. Many times, trying to be funny, I wrote that suburbanites were the best pasture farmers in America and didn’t know it.
How many lawns will actually turn into sheep pastures is doubtful because there are people who will have conniptions at the idea of having sheep next door fertilizing the grass with that awful, vile stuff called manure. Most suburbs have regulations against fences too, so that would be another hurdle that would have to be overcome. But larger estates and all kinds of grassed areas around schools, historic sites, factories, parks, public utility rights of way could work. I know a country cemetery that uses sheep to keep down the grass. The grazing animals are particularly advantageous in this situation because they can bite the grass off right next to the tombstones.
Next thing you know someone will invent a diaper for sheep to appease finicky people. But for those of us who grew up around the stuff, the sheep kind— mostly little pebbly turds just like what the deer and rabbits are already scattering all over the lawns of America— is really not offensive or an odor problem. It just disappears down into the grass and can save the homeowner lots of money in fertilizer.
I salute the Urban Shepherds and wish them luck. One of the first things they could do is to join forces with another new and almost unbelievable advance in civilization. There are fathers and mothers now who adhere to what they call “free range parenting.” They are rebelling against helicopter parenting, I guess. They think their children need more freedom during play time, not constantly being corralled into too much oversight and regulation. I read about them the first time in a AP news story out of Silver Springs, Md. by Amanda Lee Myers. At first I thought it was an April Fool’s joke. Police there have twice taken into custody two children ages 6 and 10 who were walking alone a mile from their home, delivering them to their parents’ door the first time and the second time to Child Protection Services. The parents were cited with “unsubstantiated neglect,” whatever that this. They were furious, contending that the area around their home is safer than it has ever been in history.
I have the perfect solution. It is time for free range grazing to join hands with free range parenting. Turn all that wasted suburban yardage into home on the range and teach children what the real world is like by teaching them shepherding. They can spend delightful hours while feathering their smart phones, making sure the sheep have water, guarding them against dogs and coyotes and spotting fences needing repair. Then the ancient nursery rhyme would come full circle. Where’s the little boy who looks after the sheep?/ He’s out in the backyard, fast asleep.”