The advantages and drawbacks to grazing different species together 

The exercise of diversifying farming operations to boost financial security has long been a well-received practice. While farmers often incorporate a variety of forages in their pastures, one management strategy they may not have considered is grazing different classes of species in their fields. Though it’s not for every operation, some farmers may find it beneficial to incorporate multispecies into a rotational grazing system. 


One of the advantages to grazing multiple classes of animals such as sheep, goats, and cattle on the same paddock is a producer’s ability to capitalize on the unique grazing behaviors of each animal species. “If you plan to graze with different class of livestock, such as sheep and cattle and horses, they graze very differently,” Dirk Philipp, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Animal Science Department at the University of Arkansas, stated. “Sheep are more browsers, goats are definitely browsers, horses graze very close to the ground and cattle they have the grazing habit that is conducive to the forages we have like tall fescue and Bermuda grass.”

Due to animals’ ability to select and eat different forages, the pastures in turn have more uniform defoliation. “The great advantage of those differences in palatability among species is the biological control and benefits to the paddocks. If the farmer follows good grazing system management, it will eventually create a sustainable grazing system environment,” Eleazar U. Gonzalez, Ph.D., state extension specialist and assistant professor at Lincoln University College of Agriculture, Environmental and Human Sciences, said. 

According to Gonzalez, utilizing this management practice can maximize weight gain among the livestock and minimize production costs because of the biological control of animals in the paddock with a systemic rotational system.


Grazing different classes of livestock through the same paddock works best when there are a variety of forages present. Sheep, goats and cattle want and need different grasses, shrubs, forbs, or plants to thrive. Operations with little or no plant diversity will fail to meet the nutritional demands of all the animals. 

Additionally, different livestock species have varied management needs. “The entire pasture infrastructure has to be set up for the least common denominator so to speak and that is going to be that small animal,” Philipp explained. This includes fencing and water access points. The watering systems most commonly established for cattle may not work for smaller species such as sheep and goats. Additionally, cattle are much larger and can walk greater distances to water without impacting weight gain, compared to smaller ruminants. 

Supplement Requirements

In this type of system, some producers allow the sheep or goats to graze first then they are removed, and cattle are rotated into the pasture. However, some producers let all the species graze in the same paddocks at once.

If the animals are grazing together in the same pasture at the same time, then livestock extension specialists recommend separating them when supplementing their nutritional requirements at the end of the day. 

The importance of separating the animals to give them supplements is highlighted by the critical nature of providing sheep the right amount of copper. “Excess of copper in the diet is toxic for sheep. However, copper deficiency in sheep is also critical during sheep pregnancy; if farmers are not offering a mineral supplement to increase copper availability in the diet, then farmers need to test the soil where animals are pastured to know copper availability in the soil,” Gonzalez said. 

Producers can send samples to a lab for a bromatological analysis of the different grazing and plant species growing in their paddocks. The tests will also let producers know the level of copper available for consumption in those paddocks.


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