using barbados blackbelly sheep for cedar eradication

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by Charles Beam

Cedar Trees Girdled

Cedar trees are more than a little nuisance in pastures in the Southwest and other parts of the country. They suck valuable moisture and nutrients from the soil and smother grass with a thick shade. In some pastures and development properties, they become so thick that they present a fire hazard. Cedar pollen is a serious health problem. Chemicals are useless for controlling cedar.

Ken and Judy McCray, of Pawnee, Oklahoma, have no trouble at all marketing their Barbados Blackbelly sheep as cedar eaters. They have several 20- to 25-ft dead cedars standing near their beautiful family farm house to prove it. At a recent meeting of the Blackbelly Barbados Sheep Association, 25 other sheep growers happily reported that they have no live cedars left in their pastures, either.

After the meeting, I went directly to a one-acre lot on which I started pasturing my sheep only three years earlier. I gathered up nine cedars that were dead and broken off just below the ground. The largest was 5½ inch in diameter and 10½ ft tall. Having observed my sheep as they worked on those cedars for three years, I will describe how they accomplished this wonderful job.

The sheep began by eating most of the needles in easy reach. The big horned rams love to rub and twist the branches with their horns. All the sheep push in under the branches for shade and to escape flies. Standing on their hind legs, they cleared all the greenery within 4 feet or so of the ground. Then they chewed the bark off the trunk until the trees were completely girdled. The trees were dry dead within three years. The sheep continued to rub on the larger lower branches and trunk after the tree was dead until it was broken off just beneath the soil.

Our Blackbelly Barbados sheep clear all underbrush from our property. They seem to eat almost anything the GOAT eats and they don’t smell bad, climb, or jump out of the pasture. A light field fence works best to keep them in, but an electric fence will do fine.

The Blackbelly sheep are very prolific, lambing approximately every 8 months. The ewes will usually have twins after their first lambing. This hair sheep needs no shearing or tail docking.

Most of our breeders have more rams than ewes for sale. Young, unregistered rams are less expensive than ewes. You can make a nice profit by purchasing young rams and keeping them for about three years and then selling them as trophy rams. Some of us, however, much prefer butchering them for meat. You can have steak, barbecue, and chili of the finest taste. There is no rancid mutton taste to the trimmed meat, not even in the older stock.