Not only can cattle and sheep co-exist in a pasture, you can save money mingling the two.
“There’s a study that shows you can graze two sheep for every cow, without altering your cow production,” Dr. David Fernandez, University of Arkansas Extension livestock specialist at the Pine Bluff campus, said. “They’ll still produce the same way they normally would, but you’ll also have the two sheep as well that are producing for you.”
Sheep, cattle and cows prefer different forages. Goats are browsers and prefer woody species of the sort that cattle producers try to eliminate from pastures. Fernandez said both sheep and goats also like broadleaves; while cattle ranchers spray them as weeds,
“Actually they’re very high quality nutrition in many instances,” he said. “They’re very high in protein and energy, and even the cattle producers should consider leaving the weedy species and not going so much for a pure stand of grass.”
Producers can’t turn the goats in on the browse species too long, because they take longer to recover. However, if they’re on a mixed forage pasture, they’ll only eat grass 20 percent of the time.
“They can often keep the pastures in balance where no one species gets ahead of the other,” Fernandez said. “Many times if you’re grazing just cattle, you’re going to get the browse species taking over because they don’t touch the browse.”
Rotation improves pasture utilization. Dr. Charlotte Clifford-Rathert, state Extension small ruminant specialist with Lincoln University Cooperative Extension & Research in Jefferson City, Mo., recommended allowing fast growing pastures to rest 10 to 14 days in the spring, and to keep the grazing height from falling below 3 to 6 inches. That’s important for parasite management, but it also ensures grasses can take maximum advantage of photosynthesis for full growth.
Fernandez also said rotational grazing will help to reduce unwanted invasive species.
“The animals will be less selective in their grazing habits,” he explained. “They’re forced, basically, to eat what’s there before they move on to another pasture, so you can actually use it as a form of undesireable weed control.” And it can facilitate higher stocking rates; he said while animals will only use 30 to 35 percent of the forage on a single pasture, rotational grazing can push that up to 60-75 percent, and “you can double or nearly triple the amount of forage that you take off the pasture without harming it.”
Producers can monitor whether animals are eating enough through their body conditions. You can’t determine that just by looking at them as you do cattle; goats lay their fat inside of their bodies rather than subcutaneously, as do hair sheep. Wool sheep, of course, effectively obscure their body condition. Fernandez recommended feeling the bones along the animal’s loin; if you feel a lot of dents, there’s not enough fat and muscle.
“If they’re not getting enough pasture,” he said. “You’ve got too many animals on the pasture.” To ensure adequate grass growth, you can fertilize; the University of Arkansas offers a free soil test with a turnaround time of about two weeks. But, Fernandez cautioned, your problem may not be the nutrients but the pH.
“In Arkansas, a lot of our pastures are very acidic,” he said. “Acid soils tend to bind the nutrients in the soil very tightly so that the plants don’t have them available, so lime is often what we need.”
There’s one other essential nutritional component to keep close tabs on. “You want to make sure that your water source is clean and not muddy,” Fernandez said. “If they can loaf in it, they’re defecating and urinating in it; they can get mastitis that way,” as well as other diseases.


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