Friday Spotlight: Brasfield Club Lambs and Dorsets
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Brasfield Club Lambs and Dorsets is located in King, NC. My name is John Brasfield and my wife’s name is Laurie Brasfield. I graduated from Va Tech with a B.S. in Animal Science and from NC State University with a Master’s degree in Animal Science/Nutrition. Laurie graduated from Va. Tech with a B.S. in Horticulture. I’m retired from the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, where I was both the livestock agent and the County Extension Director in Stokes County.
We purchased our farm in July 1986. I almost named the farm “Speculation Farm” because we did not know how long our experiment would last. I have a feeling that we are now in it for the long haul. We run about 100 ewes. We raise both registered Dorsets and Hamp/Suffolk cross sheep.
We have three daughters. They all grew up showing sheep through 4-H from the time they were 5, 4, and 3 years of age until they were 19 and 21.
Our main market is selling club or show lambs for 4-H and FFA. We lamb in both the fall and winter/spring. Therefore, we have lambs available for spring shows (April-May) and the fall shows (September and October). We also sell breeding stock such as registered Dorset ewes and rams and commercial blackface ewes. We have a small ethnic market and when I have extra lambs or cull ewes I shipped them to New Holland, Pa.
We employ two Livestock Guardian Dogs to protect our sheep. They stay with the sheep 24/7. One is a Maremma and the other is an Anatolian Shepherd Maremma cross.
I do my own shearing. If my wife is not available, then I also pack the wool. Did I mention that I am a one-man operation? Oh! I forgot to mention what makes our operation slightly different or unique. As I mentioned earlier we run around 100 ewes, but only on 10 ½ acres. So our operation is based highly on Intensive Grazing Management.
Let’s look at a few of our management practices:
1. The first three years I applied 18-46-0 fertilizer in order to build up the phosphorus levels. The farm was solid broom straw when we first purchased it.
2. I divided into 20, ½ acre paddocks
3. We graze paddocks in 3-4 days, sometimes quicker.
To newcomers, intensive grazing may seem pretty complicated. All the talk about stocking rates and rest periods can be intimidating or just plain confusing. There is nothing terribly mysterious about intensive grazing. One reason is a simple matter of economics. After 3 years of intensive grazing, our pastures rebounded and became productive again. We are able to accomplish this type of management style by using temporary polywire electric fence with both store-bought and homemade reels.
Two basic principles of our operation:
1. How plants grow
2. How animals eat
Concentrating sheep on paddocks creates competition for food. Like mowing your lawn, everything is consumed. At the same time the sheep are applying fertilizer to the paddocks. We have not applied fertilizer since 1990.
In my opinion under grazing is worse than overgrazing. The “summer slump” in production is a critical time. You need to make sure that you have enough paddocks so that the plants get sufficient rest during this period of slow growth. During the spring lush growth, I open up the paddocks to let the sheep top off the fast-growing forage in order to keep it at the vegetative stage. Spring is not the time to intensify grazing unless you want to make hay in other pastures.
Early on I use to use the “Gumboot” test in order to decide when to move sheep in and out of paddocks. But I can now eyeball it pretty accurately. Late summer I select paddocks for fall and winter grazing in order to extend the grazing season. Examples are stockpiling fescue or planting winter annuals. I also keep a few paddocks in reserve for early spring grazing. Just remember the last paddock grazed in the winter recovers the slowest in the spring. More paddocks means longer rest periods for the plants.
I have been practicing intensive grazing management since 1986 with about 100 ewes and a few horses now and then on 10 ½ acres. I have come to the conclusion that in order to earn a degree in intensive grazing management, you must go through three grazing seasons and one drought. Please take a look at our website: Brasfield Club Lambs