Beginning with Part 3 in this series, we want to show you how different graziers approach the business of solar grazing so you can consider ways that it might work for you too. These businesses are also members of the American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA) and we’ll share how they’ve benefited from participating in the organization. As members, they’re sharing their experience and ideas to help others be successful in this emerging field.
Solar Sheep LLC
For Julie Bishop, it all started with an Australian Cattle Dog, Mandy, who wanted some sheep to work. Before long Julie was running out of room on her 6-acre home farm, so she went looking for more pasture and found a fenced-in solar array. When she saw that the array was being mowed she thought, “What a waste!” She approached the solar company and eventually got a contract to maintain the vegetation, and that’s how Solar Sheep LLC in Newfield, New Jersey was born. News about Julie and her sheep got around, and soon she was grazing multiple locations in New Jersey. She started with a flock of 50 sheep grazing 15 acres of solar, and now manages 85 acres of solar arrays full-time with 450 sheep.
Design a Solar Array Fit for Grazing
Julie’s accumulated experience and wisdom are in demand in other ways too. In addition to being paid for solar grazing services, she is also being paid to assist in designing a 700-acre, utility-scale solar site that will be grazed by her expanding flock. She plans to have close to 1000 sheep by 2023. This solar facility will host the sheep year-round and will include lambing barns, feed storage, water, and electric service.
While the sheep are at work, Julie sets up portable fences for the next few paddocks. She’s learned that some sites are not worth dividing up because of their shape or size. She uses the placement of the water and minerals to draw the sheep to areas that need grazing. To transport the flock, Julie has a 24-foot stock trailer with ventilation all the way to the floor. She can fit 50 sheep at a time. Mandy proves her value every time the sheep get rounded up and moved to another site. The dog can run a whole solar site and find every single sheep.
Julie only grazes with full-grown yearlings and ewes and keeps all her lambs at home. It helps her keep track of their health and productivity to ensure her lambs are top quality. Julie raises Katahdins, and lambs in January and February to give her lambs a good long time with their mothers before weaning them. She sells lambs for meat and pets and also sells lambs to other solar grazers. Most of her sales come from return customers, word of mouth and as a result of a sign out in front of her house.
Julie says solar grazing is not always as easy as it sounds. She has found many challenges maneuvering her truck and trailer and loading her sheep on sites that were not designed for these activities. She says, “It’s incredibly important to communicate with electrical crews about how to close gates when sheep are at work. Sites with cable trays are also tricky. With proper pre-construction planning with solar companies, many of these challenges can be avoided.” Despite the challenges, so far solar grazing is going well enough to keep her happy and allow her to expand her flock and business.
Julie became a member of the American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA) for the community and exchange of information. She sees so much value in being part of an organization devoted to the thoughtful implementation of solar grazing that she went a step further and became a board advisor to ASGA.
Visit the American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA) website to learn more about the industry and how you can become involved. This non-profit is facilitating research and best practices for solar grazing, and is developing a directory and forum where farmers can connect with solar projects that need vegetation management services. They also sponsor “solar grazing calls” the first Wednesday of every month led by a grazier in the business where everyone can ask questions and share their experiences.
Did you miss the first two articles in this series? Here you go!