Other than the trees and garden area, my five acres is not irrigated. We get less than a foot of rain per year on a normal year, and pretty much nothing during the summer, so once the 80 degree weather shows up in May the grasses start turning brown. If we get a good rainfall around this time of year then we will start to green up before everything turns to mud and muck during the winter. If we don't get rain before it gets cold, and I don't expect that we will, then there'll be no new growth on the grasses. This means that I have to come up with some alternative food source for the sheep.
In a normal year the sheep would be able to eat from the pasture until December or so. Then when things get really muddy I'd keep them up in the barn and just feed them hay. They aren't really picky about their hay and some years they've eaten hay that I'd bought two or three years earlier. No so this year. I only have three bales of hay in the barn. These bales are around 110 pounds each. That's not a lot of food for 11 sheep. A couple of years ago you could get alfalfa or oat hay for about six dollars a bale. I wish I had money on hand, I would have bought a lot. But I didn't have any money.
Today hay is going for about fifteen dollars a bale. It doesn't even look good. I've heard stories about thieves stealing hay from the fields and the hay stores in the middle of the night. Well, I'm not about to start stealing to get my feed supply. In fact, if feed prices stay this high the cost of livestock may get really low. It would be worth buying a steer. That of course will take even more food.
I could irrigate my pasture. The reason I haven't is because the cost of pumping the water would be high. With the price of hay I think it would be much cheaper to pay the extra electricity to pump water than to buy the bales. This won't help through this winter though although I may try irrigating about a half acre in the back just as an experiment.
I am going to do something this year that I haven't done in the past. I have several large mulberry trees. Once established these trees do not need any irrigation water. The original reason they were planted in these areas were to provide feed for livestock. They grow many pounds of leaves and the animals love eating these leaves. Normally we rake and rake and rake and just dump all the leaves over the fence for the animals to gorge themselves on. What ends up happening is they stomp all over the leaves and grind them all up to almost nothing. This really is a waste of the resource. This year, instead of feeding all the leaves to the sheep as we rake them, we are going to pile the leaves in the barn. Each day, instead of feeding the animals hay they'll get a bunch of leaves instead. I don't know how long the leaves will last but if I combine the two well established flowering mulberries with the three new fruiting mulberries and the leaves from the apples, pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, and whatever other trees drop their leaves I'm hoping I won't have to buy too many bales of hay.
It's a fine line I have to walk when trying to figure out how many animals I can keep on the property without having to supplement their feed. It's probably only about half a dozen. I like having two rams and at least four ewes. There's the six main stock, but they aren't for eating or selling. For that I have to raise their young, which is why we go over the amount that can be kept on the property without supplemental feeding.
We like meat. We don't eat a lot although we usually do eat it around 4 or 5 nights per week. I can usually get by with a pound of chicken (including bone) or 1/2 pound of beef or lamb. If we only ate lamb and I was able to get 40 pounds per animal (can get more but may as well think on the lesser side) then we would go through six sheep per year. So keeping the six main stock and rearing their offspring is about right to be self sufficient in meat. If we added in the chickens that we could butcher then we'd really be set.
Of course you could say that we could just hunt for our meat. Where we are at there isn't a lot of wildlife; I've never seen a deer on our property. We do have squirrels, rabbits, and birds but I figure this wouldn't really amount to a lot of meat. Sheep and chickens will be our mainstay.