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New animals

September 15, 2013

1. First of all I wish to report a new bird species at Dokmai Garden: White-rumped Munia. According to literature this is a common bird found in most of Thailand. However, at Dokmai Garden the Scaly-breasted Munia is far more common, nesting everywhere, while the dark chocolate brown White-rumped Munia has never been reported before, in spite of visits by several distinguished ornithologists. We hope this lonely bird was not just passing by. That makes 101 bird species reported from Dokmai Garden.

2. We decided that before we leave for Sweden, we should boost the remaining chicken population with some new genes. We purchased a rooster quite similar to the red jungle fowl (gai pa) from a nearby farm for 200 Baht. It is kept in a chicken dome at the feeding place for ten days just to make friends with our original chicken and the people here before being released.

3. In previous blogs I have mentioned the dream to introduce hair or naked sheep (i.e. non-woolly and more original sheep) to replace the expensive, time consuming, polluting and noisy lawn mowers. The problem was to get hold of such sheep because they are still rare in Thailand. The military north of town keep woolly sheep but they demand frequent shearing which we do not have time for at Dokmai Garden.

Three sheep.Sept.14.2013.72

From left to right: Young Shrek and the more experienced ladies Fiona and Bee-Bee working as a mowing team.

On the 14th we received two Brazilian Santa Inês ewes and a hybrid ram with South African Dorper genes. The ewes will give birth to lambs in about one month’s time. Although the Santa Inês breed is so beautiful with its slick coat, and is well adapted to tropical climate and parasites, we are afraid of inbreeding due to the limited number of individuals in Thailand. A sheep cross would be safer for successful reproduction. After all, mowing is the aim, not pure breeds, and Santa Inês is already a result of crosses including Italian Morada Nova, Italian Bergamasca and Brazilian Crioula. The Dorper is a South African breed, popular in Australia too. Its ancestors are Black headed Persian and Horned Dorset. The Dorper is well adapted to a hot and arid climate and should therefore be a good choice here in Chiang Mai.

An idea for the future is to import Santa Inês sperm  which demands less bureaucracy and costs, but we are migrating to Sweden so I should not get caught too deeply in this project which might be ruined by soi dogs anyhow.

It is estimated that only 10% of the world’s sheep population are hair or fur sheep, and 90% of these occur in Africa. That sheep are rare in Thailand was clear from the crowd of curious villagers encircling the pick-up delivering our sheep. Most villagers have only seen cats, dogs, cows and water buffaloes.

At present the sheep are kept in the former restaurant garden, walking freely to get familiar with people and the area. After about three days we intend to release them into the parking garden but keep their night quarters in the restaurant garden. After that they are ready to graze the main garden. My early observations indicate they eat carpet grass (Axonopus compressus, Poaceae) and sedge (Cyperus leucocephalus, Cyperaceae), but also leaves of bamboo, banana, Wrightia religiosa (Apocynaceae) and Saraca indica (Fabaceae). That means young banana suckers need protection. Unpeeled banana fruits and star fruits were highly appreciated, and so was peeled pineapple. The juicy drupes of the chin of Prometheus (Irvingia malayana, Irvingiaceae) were also appreciated, but the sheep did not swallow the seeds which seem too big for anything but wild boar, elephant and rhino. I tried feeding them the invasive sensitive mimosa (Mimosa pudica, Fabaceae). When I held the bunch in my hand they did not take it, when thrown on the ground they suspiciously tasted some and indeed they swallowed but they walked away before finishing the spiny heap. Tomato fruits and passion fruit were treated in the same way. Our sheep sniffed the leaves of water hyacinth, kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix, Rutaceae) and Mimusops elengi (Sapotaceae) but rejected all. Kaffir lime fruits were not appreciated either.

As night quarters we offer two raised pavilions with rice straw roofs and brick floor, but the first night the sheep preferred sleeping on the bare ground under the Saraca indica tree.

Considering a good Honda mowing machine costs 36000 Baht and demands additional costs for fuel, repair, electric sharpener, additional trimmer, man power and eventually needs to be replaced, three hair sheep with two unborn lambs are cheaper to buy and maintain, and they reproduce rapidly and provide meat and skin. Their mowing is more even and gentle than a rotating blade. Studies show that ladybird populations may decline due to intensive machine mowing but not due to grazing. Since the heavy tropical rains inevitably reshape the landscape a mowing machine sometimes cuts into the undulating soil leaving ugly bare spots. In addition, sheep are cute and add beauty to the landscape while a mowing machine is a necessary evil you stuff away in a shed. A mowing machine at Dokmai Garden may last about five years, a sheep lives 10-15 years.

Tiger, leopard and dhole are extinct in our area and the chance of clouded leopard and Asian golden cat to show up is almost nil. Our only concern are python and stray dogs. The Dokmai Garden fence is 1 km and the sheep night quarter is fenced within the fence, but a defense routine is still necessary. It is almost impossible to prevent access of python but unlike dogs a python would only make one kill. In fact, since dogs are the most abundant medium-sized mammal, it is more likely the python helps us with dog control.

Wild sheep or mouflon (Ovis aries, Bovidae) are native to the arid mountains of western Asia and the Balkan and so sheep are exotic in Thailand. Wild Thai relatives of sheep (subfamily Caprinae) are Southern serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) and Long-tailed goral (Naemorhedus caudaus), both endangered due to hunting. Our initial idea to introduce such species or native deer failed due to lack of interest among governmental institutions. Sheep are still much better than mowers!

Sheep farm.72

Kate and Mika visiting Pong and Kriangkrai at their sheep farm.

Sheep arrival.72

Dokmai Garden’s Khun Densak (right) receives the sheep, delivered by Chiang Mai veterinarian Kriangkrai, his wife Pong and daughter Moki.

Sheep portrait.72

Fiona (front) is the leader of the herd and the one who takes initiative. When I saw them at the farm I had only eyes for the dark brown beauty Bee-Bee in the background, but Fiona turns out to be more funny and we seem to have a connection. However, Bee-Bee is the sweet tooth of the herd, the only one who grunts of joy when a fruit is offered and who would run to get it, often before her companions. Unlike Fiona she would not touch tomato or passion fruit. The adolescent Shrek has not developed his character yet, but I can already tell he is more fond of taking a break than the ladies. He is also more adventurous in feeding from shrubs.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

12 Comments leave one →
  1. David Cooke permalink
    September 15, 2013 12:42 PM

    I had a customer that owned asses, they would (!unfortunately) eat almost anything. Maybe worth bearing in mind?

    • September 15, 2013 6:24 PM

      The military regiment mentioned above has plenty of mules, good for transporting equipment up very steep hillsides. However, I agree with you they are almost too good at foraging. Sheep seems like a good compromise.

  2. September 15, 2013 12:47 PM

    Sounds eco-friendly BUT Beware of the Sheep

    Just take a look at what they did in a period of 2-3 years in Victoria :

    The above article refers to cattle and sheep but the culprits were the sheep which would root out the delicious tuberous roots of the Yam Daisy.
    Here we might find the same with the native gingers and leave no Globba or Curcuma, which make our woodlands so lovely, remaining is a short space of time.

    • September 15, 2013 6:32 PM

      Yes, an ecosystem without humans would contain plenty of ungulates and their predators. The nearby national parks were once full of muntjak, sambar deer and wild boar, but the Curcumas were still present. From our short period of observations here the sheep do not touch the gingers. The head of the Opkhan national park does not want native wild elephants in the park due to their damage. The reason is this forest is still young and recovering.

      Over-grazing followed by erosion is indeed a concern. In our case we have a contained garden with lawns in need of mowing. Five animals in ten acres is still insufficient and finding the right balance between erosion and overgrowth is indeed important. I do look forward to studying the change in weed composition as a consequence of grazing.

      Cheers, Eric

  3. September 15, 2013 6:44 PM

    Additional observations on the sheep menu:
    They all ate the leaves of the invasive Leucaena leucocephala (Fabaceae) when I hand fed them. If they can keep such seedlings under control that would be splendid! They also eagerly eat the spiny outer part of the pineapple you cut off.

  4. September 18, 2013 10:07 PM

    The ewes like a night sandwich. At ten p.m. I can hear how they rip banana leaves in the dark, while Shrek, the ram lamb (he is 4 months old) happily sleeps. If this night meal is a sex thing, an age thing, a breed thing or a pregnancy thing I do not know. I called them in the dark and they came up to share some star fruits with me. Their vision at night seems poor though. Additional species to their daytime menu are Hibiscus mutabilis (Malvaceae) and Diospyros ehretioides (Ebenaceae).

  5. September 20, 2013 8:03 AM

    This morning we released the sheep into the main garden. It is very easy to make them do what you want, because Fiona will come up to you and when you walk she follows, and the other two follow Fiona. Bee-Bee is a bit anxious and keeps a distance but fruit or cucumber makes her run to you. Some use cheap pellets but that involves remembering to buy them, storage, rat and mould problems, and the worrying thoughts about what kind of toxic waste was smuggled into the pellets. Better use our own organic fruits!

    To my great satisfaction the sheep eat Desmodium spp. which is a wild legume with a very flat growth habit. When it creeps out onto the main road within the land no machine can remove it, so in the past we have bent backs. No need for that anymore!

    The Desmodium is probably the driving force of the lawns. We have never fertilized in six years, just recycled cuttings and this legume lives in symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. With sheep grazing there will be output of nitrogen from the lawn ecosystem, although some is returned with urine. This small flock (currently three individuals in ten acres) will have insignificant impact, but when the flock grows it is likely the flora of the lawn changes. Actually we do not have much of lawns in the main garden, it is more a herbal green carpet dominated by wild grasses, sedges, low herbs and legumes, anything that can stand the mowing machine really. We are not fanatic about a grass monoculture, which is one of many designs for a garden. We are fanatic about biodiversity.

    In Sweden, traditional hay production (cutting and removing the hay) results in a low content of nutrients in soil and thereby the highest plant and insect biodiversity. Grazing promotes the second highest biodiversity where ruminants are more efficient than horses. Adding nitrogen to the pasture favours a handful of grass species which will suffocate the other plants. That practice is aimed at maximized livestock production and results in the lowest biodiversity. Our aim is maximized biodiversity, quiet, minimum costs and minimum labour. We need to find the best balance between number of healthy heads and maximized biodiversity, but without erosion or plant damage. I moved a number of bananas to our wettest section because I think they may disappear from the restaurant garden due to the sheep’s activity.


  6. September 20, 2013 9:07 AM

    Sorry I cannot share your enthusiasm about Desmodium grazing as they are my favourite herb with lovely little pea flowers. How many spp of Desmodium have we here? Do you have a paper on their identification? Also I tried to propagate some from seed and failed. Any suggestions ?

    • September 21, 2013 8:09 AM

      Our species is Desmodium triflorum. Indeed lovely in the meadow but not on the road or when taking over the ‘Italian mountains’ where we grow Mediterranean plants. Smitinand lists about 15 species but the genus Desmodium once encompassed many more species which have been transferred to other genera. Flora of Thailand’s Papilionaceae subfamily volume has not yet been published. Flora of China will have to do meanwhile.

      Cheers, Eric

  7. September 21, 2013 8:15 AM

    The sheep have spent two days in the main garden now. A new routine during my absence in Sweden is that the gardeners dump kitchen waste where they feed the guineafowl and chicken. That immediately attracted the sheep, so instead of mowing they become garbage feeders. Not my intention! Back to the old routine: kitchen waste in the compost to make soil and meadow plants for the sheep. The gardeners insist chicken need rice grains, but I doubt it. The garden is full of seeds and insects and they spend most of the day killing scorpions and essentially anything they can catch and swallow. However, rice-feeding is a good practice to keep the chicken, which otherwise would go completely wild and maybe leave us.


  8. December 26, 2013 9:36 PM

    Very interested in obtaining Santa Ines sheep for Laos. Can you give me a contact I could pursue? From : Jim Archer

  9. December 30, 2013 2:41 PM

    Dear Jim,

    The veterinarian from whom we bought our sheep said that his Thai source of Santa Ines may have a flock suffering from inbreeding. However, if there is enough interest we may investigate the possibilities to import new fresh genes.


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