Nutritional Wisdom

The ewes are eating hay full time, no longer venturing to graze, a decision I’m sure was encouraged by recent snowfall and cold weather. Their fleeces are thick and full at this time of the year, with another two months of growth to go yet before shearing.

We leave a pasture gate open so the ewes have access to a heated water bowl. From where they’re feeding they have to walk maybe a quarter mile to get to water. They only come up for water once every few days and eat snow in between.


They’re also nibbling on a particular weed, an Absinth plant, which is known for it’s strong odour and for it’s anti-parasitic properties (natural wormer). It’s also noted as being poisonous if consumed in great quantities.

One reason I get excited over the sheep nibbling this plant is because I made a change in their mineral program. This winter I dropped my usual mineral regime to see how a new natural mineral salt product would go over. That was months ago.  Just recently I was mentioning to Allen that I thought the fleece quality is off this year, that it’s just not as bright and uniform as it usually is and I think we need to go back to the mineral plan.  Now I see the ewes nibbling on Absinth.


But there is one other factor to consider - because nothing is ever so straight and narrow when it comes to sheep.  We also notice that our feed quality this winter is not great as the hay received so much rain during haying.  The ewes are preferring to eat last years hay to this years.

Reasons aside, I’ve witnessed the sheep displaying nutritional wisdom too often to discount it. I have no doubt they know what they need, and if it’s available to them in their environment they’ll consume it at the right time. We completely miss their selection and their timing when sticking to regimented treatment schedules and when we get obsessed about weeds and kill them, forgetting they have purpose.

[Side note: We don’t give regular worming treatment to this flock. We only worm select individuals as needed. We quit regular worming treatments back in 2007 when we put the sheep onto Pat Coleby’s mineral program.  That, along with several other management practices contributed to this choice.]

6 comments:

  1. Boy, you have a lot to keep up with. I looked up Absinth, but only found reference to a highly distilled alcoholic drink! Can't wait for shearing time, to see how you handle that.

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    1. Try Artemisia Absinthium. Absinth is the common name for it here. I believe the plant oil is used in an alcoholic beverage called absinth which is what you've come across.

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  2. You probably have more things to read than you'll ever had time to get through, but I think the lady with this blog http://www.whitegumwool.com.au/come-shepherding
    and you would have alot to talk about. She is also exploring the nutritional wisdom of sheep and alternative ways of managing them.

    My dorpers will eat wormwood (what we have locally that makes absinthe) when they need it, it's going to make up a large part of the hedgerows I am hoping to establish round the pastures.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, took a quick look and will explore further for sure.
      Neat to hear of other sheep eating it as well. I think this is Artemisia Absinthium but I really don't pay a lot of attention to the names of plants.

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  3. Great to hear about the mineral program. When we bought our lambs they had horrible parasites and regular deworming did this to them. Some of the seller's lambs died due to this practice. We wormed once and have had no issues with rotational grazing and deworming as needed. I too believe minerals and proper feeding are at the core and of course access to natures medicines. Thanks so much for the mineral info. I will look that up. Always looking for more naturalistic management practices.

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    1. At our recent sheep symposium a veterinarian speaker talked about parasite resistance to drugs and the now (new) recommended practice is what you and I are doing - worm selectively rather than whole flocks. Back when we started there was no support for doing it this way.

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