Where would you expect to find a herd of sheep? How about in an actual city?
Not the first place you would look, I guess. It is possible, though! In Deventer, for example, they have a sheep herd going around the place to manage the city greens. I talked with the shepherd to find out all about it.
The shepherd I’m meeting is Marianne. She has been managing the herd since July this year. Before becoming a shepherd, she already had experience with working with sheep while she was living in France, some ten years ago.
When the city council of Deventer decided to start a project of grazing by sheep and the job was on offer, Marianne went for it. “I had never thought to be herding sheep in the Netherlands in my life, but it was a great chance” she tells.
Because the project is new this year, it is still in its development phase. “You start with a backlog, it will take some years to reach the intended equilibrium. After this year we will evaluate, but so far the results seem very positive!”
So, why would you want sheep to graze the parks, rather than to mow them mechanically every now and then?
Marianne explains that by using sheep, biodiversity will increase and nature will start to return to the city greens. When mowing with a machine, you cut off everything at the same moment. After that, it is a race who will grow fastest. The few species that win the race outcompete the others and will then monopolize the field.
When sheep are grazing, however, they will eat those “fast” grasses early in the year. Some time later, the slower plants will start to grow. And now that the fast grasses are already eaten, there is room for those other species to become bigger and stronger. After a while, these plants will also be eaten, but they will have had a chance to grow, flower and spread their seeds.
Working together with a team of ecologists, the number of grazing days is decided for every park area the sheep visit. That way the grasses will be sufficiently short, but the fields will not be overgrazed. Marianne then decides how exactly she is going to go around a certain area in the time given.
When asked what is best about herding sheep, Marianne is quite certain. “Working outside is wonderful.” Laughing, she adds: “Well, we haven’t had winter yet, so I might change my mind on that! But being here with the animals all day really is amazing! Even though I work a full-time job, often even on weekends, it doesn’t feel that way. This work gives such a feeling of freedom!”
The sheep will be going around Deventer till December. Then they have lambing season, but if all goes well, they will be back in April. You can always pay them a visit when you’re in the area!
Have you seen sheep in a city before?