If you’ve ever visited our California Shelter more than once in a season, you may have found animals in different fields each time. Throughout the year, our large animal herds rotate between the many pastures of our 300 acres. This not only provides the animals with new scenery and places to play, but it also has economic benefits! During the rainy season, the herds are moved to a new pasture once they have grazed down all of the grass. The cattle are often let into the farthest pastures in the rolling hills and have plenty of grass to eat until the summer, while our sheep and goats are kept closer by and may need to rely on hay until more rain comes.
For several weeks each winter, we close the gates leading to the road that passes in front of the sanctuary and release the herd of feral sheep we rescued from Santa Cruz Island into the barnyards to graze. Signs are placed on the gates for any visitors who may not be aware of the old farm adage, “leave it as you found it.” Despite their wild nature, the sheep are right at home at the shelter and will look up from their meals only briefly as we hustle about after our hundreds of other shelter residents. Extra precaution is taken when driving the tractors around since sheep expect us to wait for them to finish crossing the road and we are more than happy to oblige.
The three donkeys, with whom the sheep often share a pasture, used to share the privilege of grazing in the barnyards — until they became too mischievous and opened up a silo filled with food! Now the sheep have sole reign over the barnyards. They always have access to their barn in case it starts to drizzle, and water troughs are set up in various locations in case they get thirsty. All of the essentials provided for, they apply themselves to the task of finding every last blade of grass to eat and they sure do a great job of it!
Of course, there are many grassy areas on the shelter that the herds cannot readily access; some are for the small animals, and others are not fenced. Those of you who have visited before may be thinking of the open space that surrounds our barns and office as one of these inaccessible areas, but you would be wrong! We built fencing around all of the fruit trees that were planted last year as apple leaves and bark are very tasty, but the sheep do find a way to prune down the rose bushes in front of the office every time. You know you have the best job ever when you look up from your desk and see an entire herd of happy sheep grazing away outside your window.