June 06, 2020

UNH research project pits sheep against Deere

NOTTINGHAM, N.H. — Researchers at the University of New Hampshire are studying the effectiveness of a power company’s use of sheep to control plant growth beneath power lines.

For the third year in a row, Public Service Co. of New Hampshire has brought in flocks of sheep to munch plants and trees beneath its power lines.

This year UNH researchers are studying the effort. Their findings will help the utility determine whether to continue the project and whether it could be expanded.

“From the beginning we’ve known that this has been a wonderful environmental story, but we have always needed to be convinced that this could be a good, sound business plan,” said Public Service spokesman Martin Murray. “In order to determine that, we have to know whether or not the sheep can actually do the job and this year will be critical.”

Murray said the researchers will look at the effects of having the herds graze the same parcels of land for three years.

“Based on that we hope to get some good information that will allow us to make a sound business decision about whether or not this is a tool that we may continue to use in the future,” he said.

Murray said the sheep never could replace all of the company’s mechanical mowers, but they could help.

“There are not enough sheep in the whole eastern United States to do what we would have to do each year,” he said.

Tom Lee, a professor of plant biology at UNH, said one of the goals of the study is to determine whether some plant species actually benefit from the sheep grazing.

“We are very interested in any kind of new ideas or concepts that are testable,” he said. “That’s what science is all about, testing hypotheses and determining whether certain forces have an effect or don’t.”

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