The impact of integration of sheep into vineyards in New York State
Integrated (crop + animal) production practices allow for intensified production on limited land while also increasing sustainability. Sheep have successfully been integrated into vineyards in New Zealand for off season grazing but no research is available on grazing sheep in a vineyard during the growing season. To understand the viability of incorporating sheep in vineyard management practices, four separate studies were undertaken: 1) a survey of Northeastern grape growers, 2) a replicated field trial of sheep grazing in a high-trained hybrid vineyard, 3) an observational field trial of sheep grazing in vertically a shoot positioned vinifera vineyard, and 4) an economic analysis of sheep grazing compared to conventional vineyard practices. Responses from growers to the survey indicated a mixed reception to sheep incorporation, with knowledge of other growers who had implemented the practice strongly influencing respondent willingness to do the same. In high-trained vineyards, sheep effectively suckered vines and mowed the vineyard floor, causing no damage to the vine trunk while resulting in the elimination of herbicide use under the vine. However, yield in grazed plots were markedly lower than in conventionally managed plots. When incorporated into a vertically shoot positioned vineyard, grazing height needed to be limited to the fruiting zone through the use of bird nets so that the sheep could effectively perform fruit zone leaf removal without excessively stripping vegetation from the vine. Economically season-long grazing sheep in vineyards was more expensive than conventional practices, but the cost of using sheep for fruit zone leaf removal in vertically shoot positioned vineyards was 3% lower than conventional practices even with the inclusion of bird nets. Further research is needed on the long-term effects of sheep grazing in vineyards along with alternative strategies of managing sheep.
Vanden Heuvel, Justine E.
Schmit, Todd Michael
Master of Science
dissertation or thesis