Our family farming history began with my great-great-... (nine generations ago) grandfather Johannes. He, his wife and three children left Saxony, Germany, on April 20, 1734, aboard the ship St. Andrew, mastered by Capt. John Stedman. They landed at Philadelphia on Sept. 22 and eventually settled our family’s first "New World" farm near Society Run in Frederick Township, Montgomery County, Pa., in 1743. Pig farming was our family’s specialty until the mid 1950s. A lot has changed since then. Our BQA cow–calf operation includes 100% grass-fed registered Red Angus, Hereford and purebred Beefalo; 30 to 35 pastured Duroc and Spot pigs; 100 Freedom Ranger broilers; and 90 Golden Comet and Buff Orpington layers. We organically maintain 80 acres, comprising 15 acres in rotational pastures, 15 acres in tillable cropland, and alfalfa/mixed grass hay on the balance. We have never used chemical pesticides or herbicides on our pastures or hay fields. We are not a "certified" organic farming operation, but we prefer the natural/organic approach to help promote sustainability.
Multi-Species for Grazing Perfection
Nov 23, 2011
MULI SPECIES GRAZING
Sheep and beef are both ruminants, both can be profitable on grass and neither need grain for productive weight gain. Another similarity is that the same handling facilities can be used for both species. The "second best thing" about lamb’s/sheep are that when they are out on pasture, they prefer to eat immature grasses, forbs and weeds. Cattle, on the other hand, prefer to eat mature grasses and legumes and have been described as "luxury grazers." BEEFALO on the other hand are a combination of the two. They will eat everything! Oh yeah, the best thing about lamb’s are they taste good! Like BEEF.
Because of these grazing preferences, if you run sheep and beef in the same pastures you will see more efficient utilization of your forages. You will also see more uniform manure spread, especially in varied terrain. Contrary to popular belief the Cattle & Sheep do not share parasites. Therefore parasite load per animal will not increase with the increased number of animals.
As previously stated, sheep are more selective grazers than cattle, and will eat weed species, even things like burdock and thistle. And who couldn’t use some help with those nasty weed’s? Reducing these weeds will allow more sunlight for grasses, encouraging grass growth, and keep you from needing to get out the weed-wacker and spend a couple of day’s walking the fence-line! Sheep will eat close to cow manure, which cattle will avoid. And cattle will clean up mature grasses that sheep will ignore. Sheep can go into a pasture that your cattle will be tired of and still find plenty to eat.
In 2006 an article written by Jody Padgham for "The Organic Broadcaster", Dr. Nusbaum of Purdue University stated that "The biggest challenge to multi-species grazing, is getting beef people to not laugh when you recommend they get some sheep." He also has the following helpful tip’s to consider when planning your multi-grazing venture.
- Fencing- Although 4-5 strands of barbed wire perimeter fence will easily hold in a cow, it will be inadequate for sheep. Adding two strands of hot wire to the fence should keep sheep where you put them. Six strands of barbwire can work too, depending on what is on the other side of the fence. Two strands of electric wire is sufficient for interior paddocks.
- Water- Cattle and sheep can share a watering system, although if adding cows to sheep capacity will need to be expanded. Flow rate and tank size will both need to be increased to handle cattle needs. Sheep will eat snow in the winter, cattle won’t. Sheep will need a lot less water overall. If using natural water sources it is important to note that sheep will generally not cross a flowing stream. If trying to protect a water source from the animals, more fencing will be needed to keep sheep out.
- Working facilities- Both species can be trained to use the same handling areas. Moveable panels help for any adaptations that must be made to accommodate size differences.
- Minerals and grain- Sheep can’t have access to cattle mineral due to a toxicity with copper. Red urine in sheep is an indicator of high copper levels. Mineral access can be managed by feeder height to keep the sheep out. Sheep will try to get into anywhere you are feeding grain, so be prepared.
- Predators- Cattle will help protect sheep from predators. Older ewes will actually form bonds with the cows, helping with predator control. If stockers are brought in, the dynamic between species will not develop as tightly and you will see less protective effect.
- Herd dynamics- Some farmers have found that rams will "bully" cows and be protective of water sources or other gathering areas. At lambing, some cattle may create problems for the young lambs. You may want to separate animals at certain times of the year to avoid these challenges.
There are very few detrimental affects to having beef and sheep graze together, short of personal or management issues involved in understanding and managing more than one species. The major hurdle in merging sheep and cattle management is "the disposition of the farmer. Sheep will always choose to act collectively, and will act very differently than cattle in similar situations. There will be a learning curve in understanding a new schedule for grass management. Multi-species grazing will bring in added complexities and require more foresight. To succeed at multi-species grazing Dr. Nusbaum recommends you choose your animals carefully. You will want low maintenance breeds, animals that are tough, can lamb or calve on pasture, will perform well on grass and succeed with little management. He recommends that you "buy breeding stock from an environment that is equal to or less in quality than yours," so that the animals will continue to improve in your situation and under your management.
If you feel like you have your grazing system more or less under control, next year might be the year to consider shaking things up by adding a new species, for benefit to both your pastures and your pocketbook as your pasture carrying capacity goes up.