Sheep Grazing Research Results

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation utilized sheep grazing as a grassland management tool on its Squam Farm property for ten years (2005 – 2015). The use of sheep is a historically-accurate conservation tool for Nantucket, as the past impact of European settlers and their grazing animals influenced the development of the island’s unique sandplain grasslands and heathlands. These habitats now support one of the highest concentrations of rare and endangered species in the Massachusetts, and protecting and restoring them is a top conservation goal of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation.

The sheep at Squam Farm were repeatedly rotated through upland grazing areas around the property utilizing portable solar powered electric fencing. They began grazing in early  springtime, as the sheep preferred to eat the vegetation present in these pastures when the leaves were young and tender. Pastures were grazed multiple times during the growing season so that the sheep continually fed on fresh foliage that re-sprouted in response to the previous graze rotation.

Our research and monitoring at Squam Farm documented that woody shrubs declined significantly within pastures treated with both sheep grazing and brush cutting. Furthermore, a comparison between sheep grazing and brush cutting showed that grazing was significantly more effective at creating patches of bare ground, which provides suitable conditions for the establishment of grassland-associated plant species. The results of our research were published in the Northeastern Naturalist: Special Issue on the Natural History of Agricultural Landscapes. Click here to read a copy (the publisher, Eagle Hill Institute reserves the copyright to all its publications. Any reproduction, other than for an individual’s own personal and private use, or distribution of journal content is prohibited without written permission from Eagle Hill Institute).