Every now and then I get a call from a gentleman who was our neighbor for a number of years when I was growing up. Usually he tries to mess with me, but now and then, he really does need some advice. This time around it was the advice. During our conversation, I mentioned that he could graze the sheep or goats he might be getting with his cattle. I was surprised that he was surprised to learn that. That got me to thinking that perhaps others may not be aware that you can graze large and small ruminants in the same pasture. If that gets your mind turning, here are 5 considerations for adding small ruminants to your grazing program.
- Plant Selection
Cattle are grazers. They use their tongues to pull forage into their mouths along with whatever else happens to be in way as well. Sheep and goats on the other hand are more selective. While sheep are also classified as grazers, they can select and sort the grasses they pull into their mouths. Goats are classified as an intermediate grazer. They will browse on tree leaves and board leafed plants in addition to grass. In general, goats prefer to eat leaves over grass, and, like sheep, they can select and sort the forage they eat.
- Stocking Rates
In general, you can make the correlation that 5 mature ewes or does is equivalent to 1 mature cow. With this general rule of thumb, you can make estimates on how many head of small ruminants you can add based on the stocking rates for your area. For exact recommendations on small ruminant stocking rates, please contact your local extension or NRCS office.
The markets for sheep and goats are seasonal, but the peak times for demand are not the same as for calves. Typically, demand is highest for lamb and goat in the spring and summer. Most of market lambs and kids are sold in late summer in the upper Midwest (Jan/Feb/March birthing). It’s also important to know that sheep and goats have mandatory traceability programs. All sheep and goats that are sold must be identified with a ‘scrapie tag’ which includes a premises identification number and flock ID number. These are provided at no cost, read more about it here, or contact you State Office Veterinarian.
Fencing may be the one deterrent to adding small ruminants to your cattle grazing. While it’s true that sheep and goats are seemingly greater escape artists than Houdini, they can be kept on the right side of the fence. If you are using electric fencing, it will be worth the time to train the small ruminants to the fence before turning them out with the cattle. Also remember that they have small hooves, which means they are less grounded compared to cattle, so the shock from the electric wire will not the be same. However, getting them used to an electric wire in a dry lot, where you can be assured the charge is correct, can teach them that the wire hurts and they will avoid it.
The type of supplement that you use when adding small ruminants will depend on whether you add sheep or goats. While sheep (wool bearing and hair bearing) have a requirement for copper, they are unable to remove additional dietary copper from the liver. It’s been demonstrated that hair bearing sheep have a higher requirement for copper and are able to tolerant more in their diet. However, they are still less tolerant to supplemental copper than goats or cattle. If you choose to add sheep to you cattle grazing, you will need to make sure the sheep can’t access the cattle supplements. If you choose to add goats, you would not need to have a different supplement available, assuming that does not contain a medicated feed ingredient or feed through fly control. Goats have a tolerance to copper similar to cattle and have a daily copper requirement of around 20 mg per day. Additionally, if you offer creep feed to your calves, remember that the mature ewes and does are the same size to smaller than your calves.
Small ruminants can be a simple way to diversify your operation. Additionally, they can be a good project for the younger generation as they are easier to handle when compared to cattle. CRYSTALYX® offers a number of supplements that specifically formulated to meet the unique nutritional needs of small ruminants. Additionally, there are supplements available for co-grazing situations. Give us a call at 800-727-2502, or contact your local dealer for more information on the small ruminant supplements or any CRYSTALYX® brand supplement.