Silence of the lambs: Sheep muzzled to protect grapes

An Australian entrepreneur has come up with a simple invention to solve the problem of grazing sheep munching on grapes – a Hannibal Lecter-like muzzle.

Credit: Wine Baa

David Robertshaw, a social worker from McLaren Vale, is the brains behind Wine Baa – a plastic snout that can be attached to grazing sheep to protect low-hanging fruit while retaining the benefit of using sheep to tend vineyards.

The muzzle flips upwards when a sheep is facing downwards, allowing it to eat grass freely, but remains in place should they try and reach upwards to grab a grape.

“The snout guard allows sheep to eat weeds and grass, but prevents them from eating vines in an environmentally focused goal to improve productivity, reduce CO2 emissions and the use of chemicals for vineyards, and to supply more pastoral land to reduce pressure on land clearing,” Robertshaw states on his website.

While sheep are generally shipped into a vineyard during the six months of the year prior to harvest to cut costs, the Wine Baa could allow a flock to become a feature all year round, says Robertshaw, deployed when needed.

“Unless the vines are within walking distance, sheep have to be trucked in during those months, adding to the overall cost,” Robertshaw explains. “They are then brought back during the other 6 months, making it not possible to increase one’s flock dramatically and making it not possible at all for some. But if the sheep can be kept full time in the vines the vineyard will no longer be a seasonal block to graze, but it will be able to support the whole farm life of the sheep, allowing Graziers to increase their head of sheep only to the limit of the vineyards they can access.”

The product was tested on sheep in Langhorne Creek, SA, and was launched via its website last month, where the contraptions are priced at AU$28 each when buying 10.

“The focus of Wine Baa is a dualistic approach, the combination being a reduction in costs and excess, as well as an environmentally sound solution bringing farming back into self sufficiency,” Robertson adds. “Wine baa is low cost, allowing vineyards to save a significant amount of money, reduce CO2 emissions, remove the use of herbicides, and increase land usability and space, bringing a focus back to organic sustainability without the negative pressures.”

Yealands in Marlborough was an early pioneer of using sheep to manage its vineyards, employing a flock of babydoll sheep to keep the grass trim in its vineyards, while English sparkling wine estate Nyetimber uses a flock of 400 sheep to graze among the vines in West Sussex.

According to the producers, keeping grass trim helps reduce the risk of frost, while the sheep provide manure for the soil. Not only are sheep less expensive employees, but their use also means that agricultural equipment is not needed, reducing potential CO2 emissions.

Likewise, at Cono Sur’s Santa Elisa estate in Chimbarongo, a gaggle of geese play an integral role in vineyard pest control. Over 1,000 of the waddling water birds work at the Chilean estate, where they eat insects and bugs during the growing season that would otherwise be damaging to the vines.

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