Urban Shepherds provides metropolitan areas with the opportunity to repurpose and manage unproductive land through urban grazing to leverage the environmental, economic, and social benefits associated with more productive land.
In 2012, Urban Shepherds was created as a nonprofit organization for the purpose of promoting urban and suburban sheep grazing as a cost-saving and environmental alternative to mowing; promoting urban farming and increasing sheep production; and educating youth and recruiting future shepherds. In addition to providing flocks, Urban Shepherds will identify appropriate lots for sheep with site suitability grazing modeling, help with fundraising, assist with zoning and permitting for sites, prepare the sites for flocks, train staff or volunteer shepherds, and secure professional shepherds to oversee each urban area. Urban Shepherds provides a win-win solution for land owners/managers and shepherds. And, local communities “flock” to see the sheep.Learn more about how you can save money, enhance the environment, and provide social capital by managing your lawn with sheep.
Urban Shepherds was created to respond to a request from Michael Fleming, the Executive Director of the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation (SCSDC), to mow vacant land in Cleveland. He first had the vision of urban grazing, and then Laura DeYoung of The Spicy Lamb Farm and GreenPrint Solutions jumped on board.
The idea behind the venture is to save money by grazing instead of mowing, reduce environmental impacts, and provide urban farming education while entertaining the public. By the use of volunteer shepherds, we can ensure the sheep are safe away from the home farms and engage the local communities. We now envision Urban Shepherds growing regionally and expanding to not only vacant urban lots but also other large lots such as schools, parks, utility lines, and industrial and commercial parkways. As we grow, we will become the link between shepherds and flocks and urban and suburban lawns. We have applied for nonprofit status, and until approval SCSDC will be assisting Urban Shepherds as a nonprofit partner and fiscal agent as they expand.
With Ohio being the number one sheep producing state east of the Mississippi, Urban Shepherds is strategically located to expand with service regionally. We will identify appropriate lots for sheep, make sure zoning and permitting is in place, prepare the sites for flocks, train the volunteer shepherds, and secure the flocks and local shepherds to oversee each urban area.
Sheep offer a cost-effective alternative to mechanized or human mowers for the landowner. Mowing one acre requires two to five gallons of gasoline. Hiring a lawn cut would cost $40-$60 per week, and, sometimes, lawns need to be cut twice a week. That is as much as $120 per week per acre. Here in Ohio, grass begins growing in March and grows until the middle of October. That adds up to about 28 weeks of grass cutting over the whole season. In spring and fall, the grass needs to be cut twice per week, and during dry seasons, only every week and a half. A reasonable average would be about 32 cuttings required to maintain an acre. This can add up to over $1,900 per acre per year.
The benefits of using natural lawn mowers go beyond saved time and money. An acre of lawn can provide 600 pounds of grass forage. This is enough forage to produce about 160 pounds of lamb meat and several pounds of wool. In addition, 200 animal days of grazing creates 600 pounds of manure containing ten pounds of nitrogen and eight pounds of phosphate that are readily available for plant growth. This would be similar to the amount of fertilizer recommended for a spring treatment for the average lawn care. According to Consumer Reports, small, two-stroke engines used in conventional lawn-care equipment are big polluters. Mowing a lawn one hour per week for a summer consumes only 10 gallons of gas, but releases an average of 148 pounds of CO2 emissions per year. Furthermore, one hour on an average riding mower emits roughly the same amount of NO2, one of the key ingredients in smog, as driving a very clean new car for 75,000 miles.
Studies show that sheep mowing reduces pollution, maintenance, use of herbicides, and gas and oil requirements. Sheep fertilize while they graze and produce lean, healthy, local food and wool products. Sheep are a great interim solution for vacant city lots. Sheep can operate in conditions, like steep terrains along power lines, that men and machines cannot easily access. Sheep do not compact the soil or disturb the indigenous species. They provide holistic land management and brush and weed control through grazing. Sheep can eliminate thistle, brush, noxious weeds, and other invasive plants and restore native grasses. They are low- maintenance and very entertaining to the public. As a result, property owners are beginning to use sheep to mow lawns. The White House lawn once had sheep grazing during President Woodrow Wilson's administration to save on groundskeeping. In fact, our modern idea of lawns was born from images of European estates that were maintained by sheep. With budget challenges and fuel prices rising, this is an idea whose time has come back.