Sheep graze for water research

Katahdin sheep graze inside pen along a water basin in Upper Dublin Township. Ambler researchers found the sheep effective in maintaining vegetation. | COURTESY CSC
Katahdin sheep graze inside pen along a water basin in Upper Dublin Township. Ambler researchers found the sheep effective in maintaining vegetation. | COURTESY CSC

Researchers from Temple Amber had an unusual herd of assistants with them this summer at a project run in conjunction with officials from Upper Dublin Township.

The Center for Sustainable Communities developed an experiment that used Katahdin sheep to help keep storm water drains around Upper Dublin High School free from overgrowth and vegetation.

Laura Toran, a professor in the College of Science and Technology said the experiment was simple and inexpensive, and began as a way to test if putting the sheep in storm water basins would improve water control.

Funding for the experiment was not necessary, as existing equipment was used, including a piece of equipment capable of measuring ions in particular nutrients.

Toran said the basin takes water from nearby neighborhoods and sends it out to the streets.  Toran, with the help of undergraduate students, was able to measure the input and output of the basin and measure whether the sheep were negatively affecting the water quality.

Toran said the short study yielded good results.

“There were no unintended consequences, [the sheep] did a great job on the weeds and grass,” Toran said.

Assistant Department Chair of the College of Liberal Arts’ Center for Sustainable Communities Susan Sacks said the experiment’s results showed that sheep can be useful in storm water management.

“The sheep were definitely effective in regards to vegetative management, as far as the research questions we were looking at,” Sacks said. “We found that as of right now they’ve had no impact of the water quality and Dr. Toran is looking at if they are improving the basins.”

Storm water basins are used to store storm water and to release it at a controlled rate to prevent over-flooding and erosion of downstream areas.The basins are vital because they prevent attached pollutants from affecting the water quality, as well as reducing sediments.

There are many basins in the township, which can be expensive and difficult to maintain, which was the driving force behind using the sheep as a cost effective way to manage the basins.

The sheep were kept within the basins contained by a travelling fence in order to prevent people from bothering the sheep. Undergraduate students analyzed different samples of the water from the basins and did not notice any significant differences in water quality caused by the sheep.

“You definitely want to know what’s going on in your neighborhood before you accuse the sheep of anything,” Toran said.

Although the sheep were a success, they will not be staying into the fall because the conditions became too cold.

“The sheep were there until Oct. 6 and then had to go home to the farm for the winter,” Sacks said.

Sacks said due to the success of the program, the sheep will be returning to Upper Dublin next year.

Logan Beck can be reached at logan.beck@temple.edu. 

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