Seven years ago, Chris Moore and Lyndsey Smith decided they needed more acres if they were going run a viable sheep farm.
But rather than buy land, the partners opted to try their hand at solar grazing their Shady Creek Lamb flock at a solar power installation near their Kinburn, Ont., home farm.
What started as an idea to find extra grazing for their sheep has turned into a new direction and focus for the farm. Starting with a successful pilot project in the fall of 2017, Shady Creek now partners with a local solar power installation to provide the site maintenance — replacing mechanical mowing and herbicide use with natural grass removal through sheep grazing.
On this episode of Profitable Practices on RealAgriculture, Moore and Smith share how they’ve restructured their production system based on the availability of pasture at solar installations.
“Solar grazing is an interesting way to feed sheep for sure in that we are actually paid to graze a solar site,” says Smith. “So instead of using tractors and mowers, our sheep are employed to clear out the vegetation underneath and in front of the panels. It really was a way to expand our land base without having to take on the debt of buying land, or potentially even trying to rent land for hay ground.”
After the pilot project, the sheep went to work full time under the solar panels on a 200-acre site the following year. Moore says Shady Creek now grazes almost 1,000 acres. In the video, we catch up with the partners at a 200-acre solar site where 450 ewes with their lambs graze under the solar panels before the watchful eyes of livestock guardian dogs. (Story continues after the video.)
Moore says the solar grazing season typically starts late April or early May and continues through October before the sheep move to graze cover crops at cash crop farms in the area. The partners are also proud of the biodiversity and habitat the managed grazing approach encourages across all the solar sites. “For this area, there’s a lot of corn and beans and this provides 200 acres right in the middle of all that of ground cover and flowering plants that’s really important to the habitat here,” notes Smith
The Shady Creek partners are also happy with how solar grazing is impacting their bottom line.
“Solar grazing can really change the the profit dynamic, especially for a sheep farm. We know that we can raise lamb very affordably because we have a lot of grazing, but we’re also paid to graze it so we know that we can raise a lamb efficiently and in a cost effective way,” says Smith. It also helps create a buffer against drops in lamb prices and higher feed costs “that can make it pretty tough to make a profit.”