Grazing sheep on solar farms

There are more than a dozen new solar projects planned in Michigan and many of those are considering using sheep rather than mowing to control the plant growth under and around these solar installments.

Sheep grazing by a solar panel.
Sheep grazing a solar installation in Saranac, Michigan. Photo by Katie Ockert.

Solar installations are appearing across the rural landscape in response to the demand for more renewable energy. Some of these solar installations were erected on agricultural land, creating the impression for many rural residents that agriculture and solar is a zero-sum game. That is not the case. Agriculture and solar work well together when the dual use concept of land management is adopted in a solar project. “Dual use” is a land management strategy that pairs one or more agriculture-enhancing practice with the production of solar power. The four practices are:

  • Pollinator habitat - solar sites designed to meet a score of 76 or more on the Michigan Pollinator Habitat Planning Scorecard for Solar Sites.
  • Conservation cover - solar sites designed in consultation with conservation organizations that focus on restoring native plants, grasses, and prairie with the aim of protecting specific species (e.g., bird habitat) or providing specific ecosystem services (e.g., carbon sequestration, soil health). 
  • Forage - solar sites that incorporate rotational livestock grazing and forage production as part of an overall vegetative maintenance plan. 
  • Agrivoltaics - solar sites that raise crops for food, fiber or fuel. 

Herbruck’s Green Meadow Organics facility near Saranac has a new 7-acre solar site that recently implemented grazing sheep to manage plant growth under and around the solar panels. Michigan State University Extension will be hosting a solar grazing pasture walk at this facility on Tuesday, September 25 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Individuals who attend the pasture walk will learn how sheep can be utilized for vegetation management under and around ground mounted solar arrays. Attendees will hear from the solar grazer, MSU Extension staff, the solar developer, and environmental consultants involved in the solar project.

No parking will be available at the farm and participants will be transported in from another location. All participants are asked to have no contact with poultry and pigs for 72 hours before the event. For further biosecurity protocol information, parking information, and registration information, please visit Preregistration is required. The registration deadline is September 20.

For more information contact Mike Metzger at 517-788-4292,; Charles Gould at 616-834-2812,; or Katie Ockert at 616-527-5357,

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