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It Starts With Healthy Soil

When people think about sheep, they usually think about wool. At a farm in Southern Maryland, Benson and Jamie Tiralla are raising sheep to produce meat.

“Lamb isn’t something people eat every day,” said Jamie, co-owner of Monnett Farms in Prince Frederick.

“People always ask if we produce wool and then kind of look at us funny when we say that we raise hair sheep,” Jamie said.

The breed of sheep that the Tirallas raise is called St. Croix. They naturally shed their coat and never require shearing.

“They look a little funky in the spring. I jokingly call them Rastafarian sheep,” Jamie said.

In addition to lamb, the Tirallas also produce beef, goat and pork.

“Soil health is probably the most important aspect of our farm,” Benson said.

“Without healthy soil, we can’t grow healthy pastures. And without healthy pastures, we can’t raise healthy animals,” he said.

In 2016, Monnett Farms was certified in the Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP), which recognizes farms that have achieved high levels of environmental stewardship. The Tiralla family was also named Cooperator of the Year for the Calvert Soil Conservation District in 2014.

“Being so close to the river and having grown up enjoying the Chesapeake Bay, it’s really important to us that we pay attention to our nutrient management. We want to keep every bit that we we can here on the farm to improve our soil and pasture quality and keep it out of the waterways,” Jamie said.

Summer is a busy time of year at Monnett Farms. Farmer’s markets are in full swing. The Tirallas sell their meats at two local markets: The California Farmers Market in Lexington Park and the new farmer’s market at Spider Hall Farm in Prince Frederick.

Livestock require care year round and Benson said summer is an especially critical time.

“It’s hot out there and we need to pay special attention to the animals,” Benson said.

“One of the main things we’re looking for in the sheep and goats is that they’re not being affected by internal parasites which thrive in hot humid weather,” Benson said.

Livestock are susceptible to heat just like people. The Tirallas make frequent checks on the animals to ensure that they’re not over exhausted and to make sure that they have a constant fresh supply of water.

“It’s important to fence livestock out of streams to improve water quality, but it also limits the amount of shade the animals have access to,” Benson said.

He said livestock prefer to eat and drink in the early morning and late evening hours when temperatures are cooler. During the day, they spend their time resting along the field edges where there is shade from the tree line.

“While we’re trying to keep the animals healthy through the summer heat, we’re also trying to keep the pastures healthy as well,” Benson said.

He explained that pasture growth slows down in the summer time. For that reason, it’s important that the livestock be moved more frequently so that they have access to prime quality grasses. The increased pasture rotation also give the grass time to rebound so that it keeps growing throughout the season, Benson said.

Farmers are usually thinking one or two seasons ahead. The Tirallas have already started planning for fall and winter. This spring, they planted a pasture with cool season grasses so that the livestock would have quality forage through the fall and winter months.

“Planning is key in any business, but especially in agriculture,” said Jamie.

“There are a lot of things we can’t control, like weather. But there is a lot we can do to be prepared,” she added.

Stay tuned as we follow Benson and Jamie and their livestock through the summer.

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