Eden Valley livestock producer and grape grower Ben Zander is a strong advocate of sheep grazing in vineyards, with his family using the increasingly-popular practice for more than 30 years.
Ben was one of six local growers who last week participated in a focus group, run by the Barossa Improved Grazing Group (BIGG) and Barossa Grape & Wine Association (BGWA) to investigate barriers to vineyard grazing and identify methods of promoting its productivity and natural resources management benefits.
“We have grazed our vineyards for a long time, and believe it is something that everyone can take on. It has great benefits for livestock farmers and, for those who don’t own stock, the fees from agistment can be an additional source of income,” Ben said.
Ben says the main reason he grazes stock is the combination of weed control with additional feed for his sheep.
“Putting the sheep in the vineyard can improve the condition of the vineyard as we can minimise herbicide costs and maintain good management of our vineyard floor. Because of our topography cultivation isn’t a viable option, so sheep can fill the management gap during winter and also return part of what they eat to the soil in a form that the vine can easily take up,” he said.
“But at the same time, the grasses that the sheep are feeding on in the vineyard mean we can rest our paddocks. By late autumn the paddocks are relatively bare, so by moving the sheep into the vineyards we can let the pastures rest and get away after the season break,” he said.
The BIGG and BGWA, with funding by Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges, are encouraging grape growers and livestock producers to consider vineyard grazing.
“The main requirements are sound fencing and water access, which many vineyards already have in place, to keep stock out during the growing season and irrigate vines. There’s not a lot involved in setting up a vineyard for grazing,” Ben said.
In Ben’s experience, dripper lines are not generally an issue with sheep, and the stock can sometimes be left in after budburst, as long as there is enough feed available and trellis height is adequate.
“There aren’t many vineyards that I would think would be unsuitable for sheep grazing, especially during the vine dormancy period. Even younger vines, which sheep can cause damage to, can be alright if the sheep aren’t kept in too long and they don’t get regularly stressed or spooked and run,” he said.