They Graze Sheep Under Solar Panels

Julie Bishop of Newfield, N.J., manages Solar Sheep LLC, a farm of Katahdin sheep that graze under solar panel arrays.


     “It all started with an Australian Cattle Dog, actually,” she laughs. “I wanted to train her for herding, but the training was a long monthly drive up north. I already had fencing from horses, so it made sense to upgrade it for sheep.”


     Bishop began with four wethers, then added ewes and rams to her flock. Before long, she had over a dozen sheep. “That really stretched the carrying capacity of my land. But I enjoyed keeping them, so I realized I needed to expand my operation if I wanted to have a chance of making a profit. The reality of farming is you have to do things at scale.”


     She spotted a nearby solar array with an 8-ft. fence. “I’d watched these guys just mow all that grass; it seemed like such a waste.” Bishop looked for a way to contact the solar company but came up short. Solar grazing hadn’t yet gone mainstream, though now the American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA) works to connect farmers nationwide with suitable solar fields.


     “Eventually, I just called the emergency number on their sign out front. I quickly clarified that it wasn’t an emergency; I just wanted my sheep to eat their grass.” The solar company was equally thrilled to hear from her. “They told me, ‘We’ve been looking for you. Where have you been?’  It was the first time I’ve ever gotten the right person on a blind phone call like that.”


     Solar Sheep LLC took another 1 1/2 years to launch, even with the solar company’s blessing. “We needed a lot of permission from the city to make this happen. It was a little crazy; we needed permits to use the land for agriculture, even though it was zoned agricultural from the start!” Bishop also faced concerns with neighbors. “No one knew what to expect with the sheep because no one else was doing this. I couldn’t point to many examples. But I kept saying, ‘It’s sheep, it’s grass, it’s a big fence—what could go wrong?’”


     Bishop manages about 800 breeding ewes and numerous rams, with her lamb populations exploding in the spring. She uses six solar sites for about 100 acres throughout the New Jersey area. Each spring, she places her sheep in the lots based on calculations of how well the property will feed them. “Weather can change my calculations a lot. I often bring in more water if we’re in a drought.” She’s found the sheep take well to the panels and like to rest under them during the heat of the day. Most male lambs are sold to the butcher by fall, while many females are sold to other sheep farmers.


     For Bishop, the business’ most significant challenge has been making connections and convincing neighbors to get on board. “One of my early sites had neighborhood houses on three sides. So those people woke up one morning, and suddenly, there were dozens of sheep grazing in front of them. I’m not surprised they had some questions.”


     For those looking to start a similar venture, Bishop stresses the importance of being picky with your location. “Make sure you inspect the fencing around the panels. And look for water! A lack of easy water access means you might have to pay to use a fire hydrant, or you’ll have to haul it in. And water’s heavy.” The distance between your home and the panels is also important, as is the size of the array compared to the number of sheep. “For example, I don’t lamb on solar because most of my sites are too far from home to monitor for lambing difficulties comfortably,” she says. Likewise, she suggests scoping out the neighborhood for signs of predators or stray dogs. She also stresses the importance of joining the ASGA to connect with like-minded farmers and learn about local grazing opportunities. “It’s a great community. I’m so glad this sustainable form of grazing is growing in popularity.”


     Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Julie Bishop, Solar Sheep LLC, 1086 Harding Hwy., Newfield, N.J. 08344 (ph 856-506-4012;;;