The Comstock House Bed & Breakfast hosts numerous visitors every year, and a small flock of primarily Dorset sheep. Owners Ross Sneyd and Warren Hathaway started farming with sheep two years ago, and spent a great deal of time in 2007 establishing perimeter fence. Spring of 2008 was the first year lambing with their 18 ewes.
The farm land has been reclaimed with a combination of brush hogging and sheep rotation. The main pasture area was open but full of less desireable species, such as
In general, the open unimproved pasture area is producing thin, lower quality and yield species.
Land reclamation as a topic of discussion came up often, particularly around management of the lower-quality species and weeds. Already, Ross & Warren have observed higher quality forage coming in where the sheep have been rotated. One challenge they face: they have a larger land base than they need for the number of sheep they have. In order to concentrate the sheep at a high enough grazing density to keep the invasives in check, and add manure for soil quality, it means that the additional pasture will either need to be maintained through clipping or haying, or more sheep or other species need to be added. Ross and Warren are considering adding beef cattle to their system to create greater impact without the extra spring lambing stress.
Warren has also been brush hogging an additional area, and plans to put the sheep into the “back 40” to defoliate the returning woody species, and improve the soil.
The visit concluded with a short presentation by Patty Blomgren of the Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, VT , discussing available markets for organic fiber, and general fiber quality requirements. Patty also offered GMS’ equipment for custom processing of wool.
GMS currently buys Certified Organic wool from Maine and western states, to serve customers simply because there isn’t enough production currently coming from VT. One challenge is the fact that there is no definitive national standard for organic wool, so the nearest standard used is for Certified Organic meat. The meat standard requires not only that the live animals be fed Certified Organic grain for the duration of their own life, but also their mother for the final trimester of her pregnancy. The more challenging part is that synthetic dewormers are not allowed for meat animals. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has recognized the lack of a fiber standard, and has placed that standard on the list with other issues waiting more definition, including honey, mushrooms, and the pasture standard. NOFA-VT supports a modification to a standard more similar to the current dairy regulations, which allow the use of synthetic dewormers, with an extended product withholding time.