Oct 01, 2010
Multi-species grazing is the practice of using two or more species of livestock together on the same pasture or paddock at one time throughout the season. The place to start planning your multi-species grazing program is understanding the different grazing behaviors or characteristics of each species you plan to graze together. Various combinations of livestock can be used to more efficiently utilize the forages in your pastures.
The main reason multi-species grazing is advantageous is because different species of livestock prefer different forages and graze them to different heights.
For example: Sheep and goats eat brushy plants with fleshy stems and leaves better than cattle or horses. Which will save you having to waste time brush hogging your pastures after rotating you cattle out to get rid of multi-floral roses and other non-desirable brushy plant’s cattle graze past. Many weeds in a grass pasture are classified as forbs. Cattle and horses tend to graze grasses better than small ruminants such as sheep and goats, so they compliment each other by having different nutritional requirements.
Goats are browsers and prefer to graze with their heads up. Browse is the tender shoots, twigs and leaves of trees or shrubs that are acceptable for grazing. Goats browse like deer if given the opportunity. They will eat higher-growing plants such as forbs and shrubs as well as high-growing grasses.
With their mobile upper lip, goats can select individual leaves and strip bark off of woody plants. Their unique lip allows them to eat the parts of a plant that are highly nutritious while leaving behind the less-digestible parts such as the thorns and branches of blackberries. Both goats and sheep will eat weeds, although goats browse more than sheep.
Although research indicates that multi-species grazing can contribute to more efficient and uniform use of pastures, the results will vary with the type of pasture and rainfall you have on your farm or ranch. Land that includes grasses & forbs are best utilized with multi-species grazing. Pastures that are uniform in grass may best be utilized for cattle or horse production. Multi-species grazing can improve utilization of forages by less than 5 percent to more than 20 percent, depending primarily on the type of vegetation on the land and the variety of animals being grazed.
This concept isn’t something new, cattle and sheep have been the combination used for multi-species grazing for many years. This practice was due to greater multi-species grazing in Western states where there is greater diversity of plant species and elevation of land than here in the North Eastern States. However, with the increase in popularity of goats & sheep around here, they now are often used with multi-species grazing on cattle farms.
Varying terrain also lends itself to multi-species grazing. If the terrain is steep and rough, goats and sheep are superior to cattle for handling the terrain. Cattle prefer to graze grass and prefer more gently sloping land. It is the combination of grasses and desirable weeds, yes they do exist, that provides for the more efficient use of multiple species for grazing, sometimes increasing meat production per acre by over 20 percent.
Although there are individual preferences, data does not define if forages are utilized more efficiently if small ruminants graze before or after cattle. Some prefer to graze small ruminants before cattle so that the sheep and goats are less likely to be exposed to larvae from internal parasites on taller-growing plants. Cattle and small ruminants also may be grazed at the same time. Usually small ruminants are used to eat weeds that cattle do not eat.
Concerns with multi-species grazing involving cattle and small ruminants include predator control and fencing for the goats or sheep. Those little suckers love to climb and jump over fence just to entertain themselves by having the owners chase them just to jump back over the fence and look at us like we’re the crazy ones. Depending on the environment, time of year and rainfall, small ruminants may require a more extensive program to control internal parasites than cattle, which adds to labor demands and input costs.
Predator control programs are essential with sheep and goats because they are more susceptible to wild dogs and coyotes than cattle are. Some producers will run a donkey in with their goats and sheep and I’ve even seen Alpacas’ used as predator guards. If a guardian animal does not protect the herd, it should obviously be replaced.
Usually more exterior fencing is needed to keep unwanted coyotes away from small ruminants as well as to keep the small ruminants in the field. Goats require a little more extensive fencing than sheep to keep them confined, but even more extensive fencing is required to keep coyotes out of the field where the sheep and goats are grazing. Reinforcing existing fencing with electric fencing is usually the most economical method.
Multi-species grazing can have additional benefits other than greater pounds of meat per acre. Because gastro-intestinal parasites from goats or sheep cannot survive in the stomach of cattle and vice versa, multi-species grazing may decrease internal parasite loads. The decreased level of parasites should result in fewer treatments for worms, which could slow resistance of parasites to conventional dewormers, an increasing problem with small ruminants. In a field infected with a high load of larvae from sheep and goat parasites, cattle should be grazed first to pick up the larvae of parasites, and then goats or sheep could graze with less danger of parasite infestation. Some producers may prefer to have small ruminants graze before cattle, as most of the larvae of internal parasites are located on plants within four inches of the ground.