Rick Adams (right) talks about pasture management for his sheep flock during a pasture walk on his farm. The shepherd moves his flock through one-acre paddocks based on the needs of the sheep. He utilizes ElectroNet fence to divide the pastures in order to get more grazing from the acres.
Rick Adams (right) talks about pasture management for his sheep flock during a pasture walk on his farm. The shepherd moves his flock through one-acre paddocks based on the needs of the sheep. He utilizes ElectroNet fence to divide the pastures in order to get more grazing from the acres.

CHEBANSE, Ill. — The white-faced sheep flock on Rick Adams’ farm is almost never in a barn.

“They are outdoors all year long, except one day for shearing,” Adams said during a pasture walk at his operation near Chebanse. “Sheep have perfect coats on them, so they take all kinds of weather.”

However, the flock was in a hoop building this year during lambing.

“It was cold and wet in April, so this year it would have been disastrous on lambs,” the shepherd explained. “The ewes lambed in a hoop building.”

Ewes had the option to go outside and lamb on the nice days.

“We saved all kinds of lambs because they were in the hoop building,” Adams said. “It was the worst April I’ve ever gone through for lambing since I started in the sheep business.”

He also has a black-faced flock that is housed in his two hoop buildings.

“I have two flocks because it is like having the right tool for the job,” he said. “The black-faced sheep are really good at producing muscle on feed, while the white-faced sheep are very good at being self-sufficient.”

The pasture for his sheep was established in 2003, and it is divided into six lots.

“Only two of those haven’t been renewed,” Adams said.

The lots are divided into 1-acre paddocks, and the flock includes 65 ewes, 45 yearlings and 110 lambs.

“I move them according to how they are doing,” Adams said. “I use ElectroNet fence to divide the pastures into the paddocks, and I move the sheep more often to get more out of the pastures.”

In one of the lots that had not been renewed, he drilled a combination of soybeans, corn, radishes and Sudan grass.

“The soybeans and radishes are about all that grew,” Adams said. “The sheep will probably start grazing this lot about Aug. 1 when all these other pastures will probably be depleted.”

The problem with grazing radishes and soybeans is if the sheep graze them too hard, the plants will stop growing.

“If you are careful how they are grazed, they’ll come back and grow again,” the shepherd said.

Adams also has baled soybeans for forage in drought years.

“When the beans are first setting pods, they make great feed,” he said. “We plant the soybeans after wheat, and there is just enough wheat straw left in that feed.”

Last year, Adams flew radishes on his dad’s corn acres.

“As soon as the corn came off, the radishes started growing like crazy,” he said.

“We had radishes 2 to 3 inches across, and they grew down 12 to 14 inches. Plus all the green foliage, when the radishes frosted, we ran sheep on them for weeks.”

Adams built the fence for his pasture with the help of Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds.

“This fence went in fast, and it’s been 10 years, but it’s still in really nice shape,” he said. “It originally was five wires, but I added another wire because I’ve got a few sheep that like to jump.”

Since this flock is outside all winter, the ewe lambs are not bred.

“If they were bred as ewe lambs, they would get thin and have problems being reproductive while they are still growing,” Adams said. “So we hold them a year before the ewe lambs are bred.”

The past winter was really good for grazing.

“There was a lot of good fall growth,” Adams said. “These ewes hardly get any hay. This spring, they ate four big bales of hay.”

Sheep also handle heat well, as long as they have good access to water.

“I don’t stir them up in the heat,” Adams said. “I have never lost any sheep to heat.”

A dog patrols the Adams property for predators, but he still has a problem with coyotes.

“Coyotes hate electric fence, and they don’t jump over it — they go under the fence,” Adams explained. “These sheep are smart. If there’s a coyote, they will group up.”

Adams’ biggest problem with coyotes occurs at the first snow of the year when the coyotes group together.

“There is no way to eliminate the coyote population,” he said.

The first hoop building was built on the Adams farm eight years ago to store hay.

“I put sheep in there the first winter, and now we don’t store hay there anymore,” he said. “This is the best environment for the sheep — it is bright, airy and easy to clean the manure out.”

In the wintertime, Adams closes the door at the north end of the hoop building, and since there is no door on the south end, he stacks large square bales of hay to block the wind and reduce the amount of snow that blows in.

For more information about the Adams sheep flock, visit www.adamshampshires.com or www.adamsshropshires.com.