Local News

Sheep Wanted for "Solar Grazing"

(Rensselaer, IN) - Solar farms becoming pastures for sheep to graze is beginning to lift off in Indiana as the first Indiana Solar Grazing Seminar to try and further the launch is scheduled June 6th at the Jasper County Fairgrounds.


The Indiana Sheep Association and the Northern Indiana Public Service Company are hosting the free event. Current sheep producers along with people just starting out or interested in having their own herds are welcome to attend at no cost.


“Solar grazing is adding an exciting new dimension to Indiana’s sheep industry and may provide the potential for new and young producers to break into the sheep production business,” said ISA President Jane Smith.


NIPSCO plans to have three new solar projects operating before the end of the year to produce electricity to power more than 270,000 homes.


The seminar will include shuttling people to the site a short distance away to help them in the processing of deciding their level of interest.  ISA spokesman Emma Hopkins-O’Brien said farmers will be paid by NIPSCO for allowing their sheep to graze on their property.


She said sheep are used already in states like California to eat the grass and other plants growing around and beneath solar panels.


Hopkins-O’Brien said paying sheep farmers is much less expensive than hiring people to perform the difficult task of keeping the grass cut and looking nice on land containing a large number of solar panels.


“It’s hard to get equipment under the solar panels to mow,” she said.


Hopkins-O’Brien said sheep are ideal animals to use for maintaining such properties because they’re not as strong or weigh as much as cows, who could damage or knock over solar panels while grazing.


Goats, who are used to clear mountainsides of heavy plant growth, tend to eat wiring and jump on the solar panels.  Without proper lawn care, the growth would cover the solar panels and hinder their ability to collect energy from the sun.


“In Indiana with all of the solar farms coming out, there’s been a lot of interest.  People have heard about other states doing it and they’re wondering if there’s some way the sheep raisers here can reap the benefits,” Hopkins-O’Brien said.


She said solar grazing also presents an opportunity for people to break into the sheep industry or expand their small herds because no land or additional property has to be purchased.


Hopkins-O’Brien said people considering the idea should find out if they can keep their sheep at solar farms during the winter and, if so, make sure they have the ability to access the property to provide their animals with supplies like hay.


“We’re bringing in some speakers who know a lot more about it, hopefully, to help people kind of see just how to do it.  How to get it right,” she said.


According to ISA, registration for the seminar begins at 8:30 a.m. (EST) in the Community Building at the fairgrounds at 2671 W. Clark St. in Rensselaer followed by a tour of NIPSCO’s solar farm development.


The afternoon session will feature presentations from industry professionals and other experts along with farmers experienced in solar grazing like Brett and Heather Kessler of La Porte County.


“These people just started because of the fact solar grazing is so new,” she said.


According to USDA, Indiana ranks 24th in the nation with about 60,000 head of sheep in 2022.


In comparison, Texas ranked 1st with about 700,000 head of sheep while California was second with 550,000 sheep, according to USDA.


A boxed lunch will be provided at the seminar lasting until about 4 p.m.


People interested in attending should RSVP on the ISA website at www.indianasheep.com or contact ISA’s executive secretary at executive@indianasheep.com.

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