Everyone I know hates weeds. I’ve spend countless hours with my grandmother pulling dandelions and crab grass, her most hated enemies. Pastures are no different. Cattle producers want to look over their pasture and see a sea of lush, green grasses and legumes. So what happens when the scene is darkened with brush and broadleaf weeds? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to utilize the weeds to maximize the available forage?
Now that I have your attention, I’ll get to the point. I’m talking about multi-species grazing and not just cattle and horses. Cattle and horses both prefer grass and tend to not eat other forages such as broad leaf weeds or shrubs; however, sheep and goats will. Has anyone tried mixed grazing? What are/were your successes and challenges?
There are two ways to graze sheep and goats with cattle, together or in succession. A study conducted by Virginia Tech found that in pastures where cattle and sheep were grazed together, there was a better balance between forage growth and quality. The same study concluded that calves’ performance was not impacted negatively by co-grazing. However, lamb weaning weights, daily gains and total gains improved, and target weights were reached earlier in the season. Similar results were found in a study of grazing cattle and goats conducted by Southern University. Body weights of goats (does and kids) grazed with cattle were heavier compared to those grazed alone. Forage quality (plant height and crude protein) was higher for pastures with mixed grazing compared to those with single species grazing.
Grazing in succession means one group follows another. This will be more labor intensive, but can more effectively target your weed problems. If you start grazing problem areas early in the growing season, when the plant is still young, sheep and goats will readily eat the leaves of the weeds first. Stocking rate will be important as if you overstock, they will eat the grass, too. Another advantage to grazing in succession is that a number of gastro-intestinal parasites are species specific. This means that eggs that sheep or goats shed will die in the system of cattle and vice versa. It’s not a cure-all to an existing problem, but it can help with parasite loads. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian to properly determine parasite loads and treatment options.
All in all, grazing more than one species can be advantageous. Lamb prices are higher than most producers have seen in a long time. Goats have a strong emerging market, particularly in the Southeast. Research shows that pastures can be improved by grazing sheep or goats with cattle, increasing forage mass and pounds produced per acre. What have you got to lose?
Abaye, A.O., V.G. Allen and J.P. Fonenot. 1994. Influence of grazing cattle and sheep together and separately on animal performance and forage quality. J. Anim. Sci. 72:1013-1022
Gebrelul, S, T. Walsh, Y. Ghebreiyessus, V. Bachireddy, R. Payne. 2007. The performance of Spanish kids born under mixed-species grazing system. J. Amin. Sci. 85 Suppl. 1:434
Gebrelul, S, T. Walsh, Y. Ghebreiyessus, V. Bachireddy, R. Payne. 2007. The performance of Spanish does under mixed-species grazing system. J. Amin. Sci. 85 Suppl. 1:434-435
Ghebreiyessus,Y., V. Bachireddy, S. Gebrelul, R. Payne, M. Berhane. 2007. The effect of mixed species grazing management on forage yield and quality. J. Amin. Sci. 85 Suppl. 1:294