At the Jericho Date Company Bedouin sheep, not pesticides, keep the weeds at bay. This story is written by Ronley Konwiser, a new farmer working the land.
The Jericho Date Company maintains a date plantation of 320 date palms that is in the Judean desert, adjacent to Jericho and within plain view of the Dead Sea. One of the main problems throughout the year has been the weeds. Every time that I would get to the end of the field, after a weeding session, I would have to start over again.
Weeds simply just don’t go away. Of course this problem can be solved with pesticides and weed poisons that are very effective, but definitely defeats the purpose of keeping our dates and date field organic and eco- friendly. What to do? Bring in the sheep!
Another excellent clean option is herd grazing. Although we had to wait until after date harvest to bring in sheep. Most of our palm trees are quite young, with bunches of dates very close to the ground. Naturally any grazing animal would be most pleased to munch away on sweet luscious dates instead of the weeds that surround the palms. So by the time the flock of sheep came in to graze we had a very serious weed problem.
We did not have to look far for our sheep because living very close to the date plantation, right in Kfar Akbat Gever, A suburb of Jericho, live Ibrahim and Ali. They are two Bedouin brothers who own a flock of 150 sheep and they were very happy to bring their sheep over to come and graze in our date fields. Especially when they saw our wall high weed problems. Great food for the sheep.
We only had to provide a drinking area for the flock and the very next day, after them coming over to view the field, Ibrahim riding his donkey led his flock of sheep into the field.
Ibrahim is an excellent shepherd. He saddles his donkey every morning (except Fridays) at 07:00 am. He says that it takes him approximately 2 hours (each way) to move the flock of sheep 6 kilometers from their home, through the Judean Desert. They also have about 30 lambs, 4 donkeys and 16 goats. But the other animals don’t make the trek through the desert.
Once Ibrahim and the sheep get to the field he takes them straight to the water trough. (A large pink bucket and a large tire that has a large sheet of plastic into it to contain water.) The sheep drink their fill and then wander over to the weeds to start their work of grazing. Once the sheep have eaten sufficiently they all settle down for a siesta until approximately 1 p.m. when Ibrahim rouses up the flock to return home.
While the sheep are resting, Ibrahim (pictured left) makes chai Bedouin (Bedouin style tea) to have with his lunch. Chai Bedouin is a blend of tealeaves boiled in a small kettle over a wood fire. Ibrahim collects dry wood and brush from nearby, places it between 2 rocks and within moments has a fire going. He fills up a little kettle with water, adds the tealeaves and sugar, and balances this kettle in the fire. Sometimes he will add fresh herbs if they are growing close by. In our field there happens to be fresh mint, but whether with or without fresh herbs the chai is always delicious.
The other day 2 sheep were born right in the field. Ibrahim knew exactly what to do and how to help the mother deliver her lambs. I was most amazed and thrilled to witness for the first time a sheep giving birth.
Ibrahim and his older brother raise the flock for the butcher. Ibrahim is 20 years old and has been a shepherd all his life. He recently got married but does not have any kids yet. He seems content to be a shepherd taking care of his sheep and worrying about them.
For now we are still living in balance with nature, waiting for next year’s harvest.