Vineyard managers don’t like the weeds and grass that grows between vines because they slow vine growth and grape production. Sheep graziers call the vineyardist’s problem “forage” and would love to be able to use it to grow their herds. So how can vineyard managers work with sheep growers so that they’re both happy? The answer comes to us in a new invention from Australia.
Check out the WineBAA – a muzzle that lets sheep eat grass and weeds, but prevents them from eating the vines. It’s a guard that is open at the bottom and blocked at the front and is counterbalanced so that when a sheep lifts it’s head to graze, the muzzle prevents it from eating foliage and fruit, but when it puts it’s head down to graze the muzzle swings clear so it can graze easily.
In Australia, sheep in vineyards is nothing new. Sheep graze vineyards for 6 months, from mid autumn to mid spring, providing cost savings for vineyards and low cost pastoral land for sheep growers. But, sheep are sent away while vines and fruit are actively growing, causing weed management problems for vineyards and causing pasturing issues for the sheep. Inventor David Robertshaw created the muzzle to reduce the costs of weed and grass management, reduce CO2 emissions and herbicide use, and increase productivity for both vineyards and sheep graziers. His muzzle lets sheep work year round, adding value to the vineyards, and creating a viable business model for sheep growers who can lease vineyards as low-cost pasture.
If you click on the graphic below, you’ll get a PDF of cost savings estimates in Australian dollars for mowing (slashing) and herbicide, and for potential income from leasing pasture to sheep (called agist or agistment in Australia). For those in the United States this is a good place to start plugging in numbers based on your known expenses.
Other Uses for the WineBaa
The muzzle could be a good tool for reforestration, allowing sheep to keep weeds and grass from smothering saplings. Robertshaw says saplings would need to be a certain size before allowing the sheep to graze, so you’ll need to contact him to learn more. Robertshaw says they’ve looked at using the muzzle for goats and cattle, but some adjustments will need to be made.
Get Your WineBAA
If you’d like to get sheep outfitted for vineyard work, register your interest here to be sure WineBAA produces enough for your needs.
Then check out this video of WineBAA sheep at work.
I know that in England and France Shropshire sheep have been used in vineyards as they do not browse at all unless pushed for food.
I live in eastern México about 40 km from the coast. The region has a hot and humid climate very well suited for citrus growing. Attempts to introduce hair sheep to keep alleyways clean have been made with little success because the sheep scratch the tree’s cortex with their teeth. A nose ring made of copper wire has also been unsuccessfully tried. I find that your muzzle could very well work under our conditions, leading to savings in weed elimination as well as providing pasture for grazing sheep thus generating extra income to the citrus grower. At the end, my question is if you have a dealer in México or the USA, either in California or Texas. I’ll pretty much appreciate your answer.
That sounds great, I’m glad to hear that WineBaa will be helpful to you. We will be shipping globally in March and taking orders very soon. I have saved your email and will update you in a few weeks when we are ready to go.
We use Sheep in the vineyard both for Winter Grazing and also between fruit set and bunch closure for leaf pluck if done well they do a great job of opening up fruit zone and with minimal damage to fruit as it is unpalatable to them at this stage.
Sheep have been successfully grazing vineyards throughout the growing season for 10 years in both the USA and Australia without reducing their quality of life and allowing them to sucker vines as well. The first commercial vineyard specifically designed to be managed by sheep and thus dramatically reduce outside inputs and equipment was planted in California last Spring. The WineBAA is a creative idea and possibly useful in certain applications but it doesn’t look like much fun for the sheep.
Thanks for your comment. I’m aware of sheep grazing during the Autumn/Winter in vineyards but I don’t know of any growers who allow traditional breeds of sheep in their vineyards during the whole sping and summer. The exception of course are some farmers in Australia who planted Chardonnay years ago and use the sheep to eat everything as feed as it is unviable to harvest. In fact, our trial vineyard is adjacent to a Chardonnay vineyard that is used for feed and there is barely one leaf, let alone any buds that made it to be a grapes. Winebaa has and is being monitored by an Agricultural scientist for negative effects on the sheep and none have been found. In fact, Sheep become used to it within about 30mins. I understand you consult and have different approach with fencing and design and I can respect your interests. If you have any further queries or concerns please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Could they just use Southdowns or something short enough to not reach the vines? I have considered seeing if it would work.
I don’t know a lot about how low vines grow or how tall a Southdown is. Just looking at the video, it seems like it would have to be a very short sheep. I think that the idea here is to work with what sheep growers are already raising as switching to a new breed could be difficult and expensive.
Southdowns can still get on their back legs or stand on the trunks. They haven’t been as successful as proponents selling them have claimed.
How does this compare with Dr. Fred Provenza’s work with using chemical training to keep sheep from eating grape vines in a non-breeding flock? Looks like a great option to have.
I’m sure the ghost of the sometimes cranky George F. Handel smiled at the title of this piece.
I think you might mean J.S. Bach – – -yes?
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