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Bon Accord hires sheep to care for solar farm
3006 BonAccordSheep 3952 km
LAWN CARE SPECIALISTS — Sheep from the Morinville Colony trim grass in the shade at the Bon Accord Solar Farm June 25, 2021. The sheep had been hired to trim the grass on the farm to keep it from blocking the solar panels. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

The Town of Bon Accord has turned to a low-tech solution to cut the grass around its high-tech solar farm: sheep. 

About 30 sheep from the Morinville Colony arrived at the Bon Accord Solar Farm June 16. The town recruited the herd to cut/eat the grass around its 648 kW solar array, which opened last September.

The grass around Bon Accord can grow to about one metre high in a typical summer, said town operations manager Ken Reil — tall enough to cast shade on the farm’s solar panels, which would reduce their production.  

Dandelion Renewables, which built the farm, suggested the town use sheep, Reil said. Unlike cows and goats, sheep could be trusted to eat the grass without chewing on or rubbing against the farm’s equipment. The town called Morinville Colony manager John Wurz, who agreed to provide the sheep for free. 

Reil said the sheep piled off of Wurz’s trailer, circled the farm once, and then settled down in one corner, which now seems to be their home base. The sheep have since proved effective at grass control — the grass was sparse and under 30 centimetres tall within the fenced farm area, but jungle-thick and more than knee-high outside of it.  

Reil said the sheep’s efforts mean less work and cost for his crews, apart from the need to fill the sheep’s water trough on occasion. 

“They’re doing the maintenance for us,” Reil said of the sheep. 

“Nature’s lawnmowers!” 

Elite lawnmowers 

Wurz said the Morinville Colony had about 650 sheep in its flock and would sell hundreds each year for meat. The sheep the colony used for lawn care were all purebred females that were kept for up to 10 years for breeding purposes.  

“These sheep cost big money,” Wurz said, and were all at the elite end in terms of genetics. 

The Bon Accord sheep were all females and of four breeds, Wurz said: Suffolk, North Country Cheviot, Australian Dorset, and Canadian Arcott. He also has two dogs on site to protect the flock. The Suffolks have black heads, while the North Country Cheviots have rabbit-like ears. Wurz said he planned to add another 10 sheep to the solar farm in a few weeks.

Wurz said this was actually the second time in about 15 years that the colony has had sheep mow grass around Bon Accord, adding they also had another 350 now providing paid lawn-care services in a forestry cut-block near Peace River. These mowing jobs are a win-win for sheep and client, as they provide lawn care for the customer and food for the sheep. 

Wurz said the colony had not done much investigation into solar energy, and did not believe the sheep had much interest in it. 

“All these sheep are interested in is, ‘Give me enough grass.’”

Wurz said anyone who wanted to use sheep as lawnmowers would need to provide them with water and a sturdy fence for protection.  

Reil said the town hoped to bring back the sheep for as long as the colony could provide them, and to have a sheep-viewing day at some point (the solar farm is behind a locked gate and not normally accessible to the public). 

Reil advised residents to take a “look-but-don’t-touch” approach to the sheep, as the sheep and their canine companions could prove aggressive. 

“They’re there to do a job. You can observe them, but don’t be doing anything more than that.”  

People who want to get up close with lawnmowing sheep can call 780-998-1783 for information about the famous Fort Saskatchewan sheep, which have mowed grass in that community for some 30 years. 

Wurz said the colony would hold an online sale of its sheep this July 16-17. Visit www.farmgatetimedauctions.ca/auction/13002 for details. 


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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