In the July Building weekend 2018 we started the sheep production at RVA for real and now we have developed a system of raising sheep while also growing fruit trees on the same area of nearly two hectares of land – a so-called silvopastoral system (forest + pasture).
We are using Allan Savory's grazing method, the holistic land management system, where you control the size of a herd and the time it can graze on a specific area. We divided the land into four parts, and built a shelter in the middle with four gates. Each gate gives access to one acre of land, about 0.4 hectare. Only one gate is open at a time. Every three weeks, a new gate is opened and the old one closed. After the animals have grazed through all four areas, they come back to the first area, which has then had nine weeks of rest. This gives time for the pasture to regenerate. Intestinal worms, which come out with the sheep manure, have died and will not reenter their bodies through grazing.
The sheep spend the night in the shelter that has a wooden floor elevated 60 cm from the ground. We can then collect the sheep manure from under the floor and use this to fertilize the fruit trees. Rainwater is collected from the shelter roof and used daily to fill up the drinking buckets (it rains a lot on St. Vincent). Later this year we will install a solar pump to make the watering automatic.
Our breed is the Barbados Black Belly Sheep that was originally from Africa and brought to Barbados by the British colonizers together with the enslaved people from West Africa. The British had discovered that the tropical environment with heat, humidity and parasites is not good for the European sheep with their thick wool, whereas the African sheep did very well. Our aim is to have a herd of 40 heads, and so far we have 16 (February 2021)
By now we have planted about 300 trees of species that the sheep do not eat or destroy. The trees are soursop trees and akee trees. We plan to also plant avocado trees. Soursop is a very delicious fruit and the leaves have some strong anti-cancer properties. You can powder of the leaves in health shops. The akee trees have fruits with seeds that have lots of good fats and proteins. The akee is typically used as a substitute for meat as its texture are similar to meat or fried egg. Avocados are well known for the healthy oils and many uses in recipes.
The sheep meat is, of course, also healthy food – especially when it comes from grass fed, organic sheep. Meat from such animals contain up to 25 percent more of the very important omega-3 acids than conventionally raised animals.
This silvopastoral model does not require much labor. The sheep ensure that the grass does not grow high under the trees, and they do much of the fertilizing. Like the systems we have described previously, our forest garden or that of letting the passionfruit grow on other trees, silvopasture copies natural systems. In this case we combine production of fodder, production of meat and production of fruit, and when this is managed systematically, each production will benefit the other two. The grass provides food, secures against erosion and builds up a fertile soil.
The fruit trees provide shade, reduces strong winds and bring up nutrients from deeper down in the ground. The sheep provide fertilizer and keep the grass growing optimally by grazing and trampling. Finally, the whole system will store ever increasing amounts of carbon in the soil.