The low-carbon wine baa
Winemaker deploys miniature sheep to cut fuel costs and keep grass short
Wine producers often use sheep to keep grass short, but flocks must be removed when the vines bud because the animals will eat them too. So, to prevent the grass using up precious nutrients and water, and to prevent the spread of disease and fungus, growers normally use tractors to do the job.
With 1,000 hectares in Yealands’ vineyard that means driving 3,500km for each of the 12 times a year the grass has to be mowed. As a result, for Yealands, diesel makes up about 60% of his energy costs. To avoid using a tractor, last year he experimented by letting loose giant guinea pigs. That worked initially, he said. “But once the hawks had a taste for them they were sitting prey. We were losing them by the hour. Besides, we would have needed 11 million of them to make it work.”
Now Yealands has turned his attention to babydolls, a rare breed of sheep which only reach about 60cm tall when fully grown. Because the grapes tend only to start growing from about 110cm off the ground the sheep can’t reach them. Yealands has tested 10 of the sheep on a 125-hectare patch of vines.