Rotational grazing of livestock is a great way to improve soil health, increase pasture yield, and manage animal hoof health. But what happens when you want to add more than one species of livestock to your rotation? Can different species graze together successfully, or will they compete for the same food resources and end up sabotaging your grazing plan? In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some strategies for success that you can use on your farm or homestead.
What is Multi-species Rotational Grazing?
In multispecies grazing, two or more species of livestock graze on the same pastures at the same time during the same season.
This is an uncommon approach in the United States but in diversified farming and ranching worldwide this is the most popular method. Different species require different types of forage, so grazing them on pasture of various kinds of grass is most effective.
When combined, they help improve pasture quality and biodiversity while also increasing farm or ranch production and profitability.
- Grazers: A grazing animal is a herbivore that consumes large amounts of low-quality forage and has a limited capacity to choose high-quality forages because of its big mouth. Cattle and horses are classified as grazers.
- Browsers: Herbivores that have a small, narrow mouth with the ability to selectively consume plants (clover and other forbs) and plant parts (tree and shrub leaves) with greater nutritional value. Goats are one of the most common types of browsers.
- Intermediate feeders: Herbivores with a mouth small enough to selectively consume high-quality plants and plant tissues, yet with digestive capabilities that enable them to eat low-quality forages. Sheep are intermediate feeders.
What Are the Benefits of Multispecies Grazing?
1. Carrying Capacity of Pastures Increases
This management technique may be one of the most biologically and economically viable systems available to farmers, especially on landscapes with diverse plant communities.
Sheep have been shown to improve cattle productivity by 20 to 25 percent and carrying capacity by 8 to 9 percent when added to a beef herd.
If you have a small tract of land available – which is true for the majority of homesteads – one of the most significant benefits of multi-species grazing is that it allows you to make the most of your land and pasture.
Multiple species can be grazing at the same time on the same pasture, allowing you to increase your pasture density without overwhelming it. Goats consume such items as woody shrubs, invasive plants and weeds, and forbs, while your cattle will prefer to graze legumes and common grasses.
When preparing a multi-species grazing system, low stocking rates should be used at the beginning and end of the season and increased as forage supplies allow.
Another alternative is to save a significant amount of the yearly capacity for young feeder hogs, lambs, and cattle that may be purchased and sold as needed rather than stocking mainly breeding animals.
When the forage resources are plentiful, a high number of feeder animals are needed when you keep a low population of year-round breeding animals.
Grazing systems and adaptive management will always be required, especially in the early years.
Here’s an example of a sequential grazing strategy:
- Allow pigs to enter the early growth stages (late-stage 1 to early-stage2)
- Hogs must be removed, and the pasture or range allowed to recover until the forage is in stage 2 of development.
- Allow grazing animals (Cows) to return plants to stage 1 of development.
- Remove the cattle or sheep until forage is ready for hogs (step 1).
2. Improved Pasture Health and Ecological Resilience
Grazing, when done in a way that matches the resources of the pasture, has been found to improve the health of the pasture.
Grazing encourages soil aggregation improving the structure of the soil for better water retention and nutrient exchange. Grazing also replaces organic matter and rumen bacteria in the soil which in turn enhances biodiversity, maintains and balances soil temperature, speeds up natural nutrient cycles, and minimizes soil disruption and compaction.
The results may differ depending on the sort of feeding program you have. Different species of animals have varied grazing behaviors and select different forages, so pastures that are grazed by several creatures tend to be more uniform and productive.
Defecation patterns have an influence on nutrient cycling, with cattle avoiding eating near their dung while sheep, pigs, and chickens are unconcerned.
Making sure that the plants are allowed to regrow to the same stage of growth each time and that weedy or unpalatable plants don’t take over is very important for improving the quality of forage and making it more resilient.
3. Vegetation Management
Farm grasslands can be grazed with species suited to the plants growing there. This minimizes any one species’ control of the area.
To target-graze weeds and allow plants that are palatable to livestock enough rest to recover, pasture managers must first understand the growth habits of weeds and desirable plant species.
Grazing managers may change the environment of a farm to a healthy, varied, high-quality pasture by knowing how plants respond to grazing and controlling when grazing events occur.
4. Reduced Parasite Population
Parasite control is one of the most significant advantages of multispecies grazing. Because some parasites are incompatible with cattle, they will die once cattle consume the parasite larvae such as the Barber Pole Worm.
The incompatibility of parasite larvae between species makes it possible for cattle to be grazed after or with small livestock like sheep, and goats to reduce larval infection rates.
In order to manage parasites, you must maintain the height of the forage. You may effectively reduce infection by allowing cows to graze on the top of the grass and move them before they eat too deeply.
The paddocks must also have a long enough rest period between grazes. This is beneficial for pasture health and allows time for parasites to die before being consumed by a grazing animal.
Animals can tolerate internal parasites, and you will never be able to eradicate all internal parasites from your herd or flock.
However, if all of the necessary pieces of an integrated management system are put into place, parasite populations can be significantly reduced. The key is to maintain a healthy herd or flock and encourage natural immunity through good nutrition, clean drinking water, and pasturage access.
Pigs may be an attractive component of a mixed grazing operation. They are well suited to following cattle and sheep and may help rejuvenate tired, worn-out pastures.
Maintaining adequate ground cover is a concern for pasture-based swine producers, and if not controlled, pigs will strip a pasture clean, impacting soil and water quality.
Provide a diversified pasture mix of various legumes, forbs, and grasses to promote pasture growth. Raise pigs in appropriate quantities based on the size of your operation and rotate them!
Make sure there is enough time for regrowth of the pasture. Twenty pigs or seven sows per acre is the maximum I would rotate through paddocks. But everything depends on your soil quality.
In some circumstances, grazing many species in the same field reduces parasite levels in the soil. All you must do is make sure that you’re grazing animals that are symbiotic.
Parasites that affect cattle are generally not found in goats and sheep. As a result, grazing goats or sheep with cattle can help to decrease soil-borne parasites and lower their resistance to certain medications that kills them.
Parasites are typically discovered in the first four inches of forage growth. If parasite levels in your pasture are abnormally high, you may feed your cattle first. The cattle have a tongue-snapping grazing technique which causes most of these parasites to be consumed by them. This allows you to safely graze sheep after them without worrying about the Barber Pole Worm and other parasites harmful to sheep.
5. Predator Control
If you have a major predator problem on your farm, multispecies grazing may be beneficial. Small poultry, such as chickens, can be free-ranged with larger animals that deter predators such as hawks.
Grazing sheep and goats together may also keep bigger predators at bay. Raising animals together from a young age can help with predator control through multi-species grazing. When multi-species grazing is done properly, the animals will form bonds and help defend one another from dangers.
Things to Consider for Successful Multi-Species Grazing
1. Adequate Fencing
As the old saying goes, “Fences should be horse high, bull strong, and pig tight.” If you practice a multispecies grazing system, consider the fencing needs of each type of animal.
A one-wire temporary electric fence can usually hold cattle. However, with a single wire, you won’t be able to keep sheep and goats in the pasture. Instead, you’ll need a five-wire system or the installation of another permanent or semi-permanent type of fencing.
In this example, woven wire or netted fencing will work well, but an electric fence is advised as a backup. This will keep predators out and your livestock in check.
A general rule of thumb is to set up fences so they can contain the smallest and the largest of your livestock. All other livestock fencing needs will be met when these two rules are in place.
If you’re grazing goats with another species, your fencing system will need to be created to keep the goats in. They are true escapologists! If your fence is goat-proof you have a good fence.
Fences, corrals, and pens designed for pigs are frequently suitable for sheep, significantly lowering the overall infrastructure cost in a combined grazing system.
Combining cattle and swine grazing will necessitate a large investment in infrastructure to deal with cattle in alleys, corrals, and chutes.
Cattle will be fine on pasture and range with hog-proof fences if the fencing is tall enough for cattle, at least 54″.
Another key issue to consider is ensuring that water sources are protected from hogs damaging them and turning an area into a wallow.
2. Farm Topography
Before you choose a multi-species grazing system, consider the terrain and topography of your land. Each species has its own preference for grassland. While goats and sheep can feed on rugged, rocky ground, cattle will do best on flatter or at least somewhat sloping hills.
3. Mineral Supplementation
One of the most difficult things about having different types of animals graze together is keeping them from eating each other’s mineral supplements. Sheep are sensitive to high levels of copper in the feed and supplements that goats and cattle eat.
If your sheep graze near cows or goats, and they have access to the same minerals, they may develop a condition called copper toxicity.
Also grazing sheep near cattle who have consumed mineral supplements may be hazardous since the sheep may pick up minute amounts of copper from the cows’ manure.
Although it’s not very typical, there is a simple solution if you are concerned about it. Instead of grazing two species at the same time, use the “one kind of animal on a paddock at a time” or sequential method. This method involves grazing two different kinds of animals in sequence as we talked about above.
As a result, your sheep will be less likely to come into contact with “dropped copper” before it has time to become part of the soil.
Regardless of the technique you use, you must ensure that your minerals are transferred between paddocks and out of reach of the animal for which they were not intended.
Which animals are best to graze together?
The way each livestock species feeds and what plants it prefers to eat is quite distinctive. To select a species for a multispecies scenario, think about the varieties of plants you have on your farm. You should also make note of the plants that are not being consumed at the moment.
Consider the animals you already own and which ones would be ideal (and simplest) to graze together.
In a multispecies arrangement, cattle, goats, and sheep are the most frequent species to be grazed in a rotational paddock system. This works well because each of these animals has a distinct style of grazing.
- For instance, cows suck forage up by the tongue and bite it off before bringing it into their mouths.
- Goats, on the other hand, eat from head height. They prefer to chew on leaves and trees.
- Sheep are intermediate grazers as discussed above.
- You may even want to graze with pigs and hens. Chickens are simple to combine with different animals and are easy to move from paddock to paddock with a chicken tractor.
Including Hogs in Multi-Species Grazing
Because of dietary restrictions possessed by the hog, multi-species grazing systems with hogs may be a good choice. Hogs have a monogastric digestive system that restricts their capacity to dissolve fiber.
Hogs can’t utilize a lot of the forage nutrients in pastures because fiber is a major nutrient in forage-based diets.
Cattle and sheep can consume fiber since rumen bacteria transform chemical compounds formed by the fiber into glucose, which is absorbed by the animal.
Hogs are limited in their diet because they eat only high-quality forages, such as clovers and young grass shoots, which have highly digestible nutrients. This means they leave much of the low-quality forage.
A system in which only hogs are fed will have low forage use and require frequent mowing to mechanically break down or remove mature plant material in order to restore plants to a growth stage more suitable for feeding hogs.
Rather than spending time and resources mowing extra forage, allowing cattle or sheep access to that same pasture or paddock will result in greater utilization of the forage.
Is Multispecies Grazing Right for Your Farm?
This question cannot be answered with a simple, Yes or No. Every farm is different. Every farmer has their own way of doing things.
You will need to consider if the animals you want to pasture together and your farming practices will be improved if you combine species. In most cases, having multiple species on the same field (or successive fields) may help cut back on your workload.
Keep in mind that most species of animals, such as sheep and cattle, can produce multiple products. You may be able to diversify your income and increase quality by grazing several species on the same paddock rotational system.
Paddock Pasturing Example
Divide your pasture into a series of paddocks measuring 164 ft by 164 ft or approximately 0.6 acres. This is the length of a standard roll of electric netting which will be used to partition the paddocks. This will make it easy to rotate the pasture.
You will need to rotate the herd from one paddock to the next one every 2-30 days. The number of days depends on the number of animals you are grazing, their weight, and the diversity and quality of forage pasture you have. Five kinds of legumes and six grass varieties would be a great salad bar mixture in any rotational paddock.
What is a typical multi-species grazing order?
Multi-species grazing order is when you have a segregated pasture where you rotate one or two species together followed by one or two different species. A typical system would graze cows first then after you have moved them, you rotate goats or sheep onto that paddock and follow them by free-ranged chickens.
What animals are used for rotational grazing?
Cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens are the most commonly used animals in a rotational grazing setup. Mostly because of how and what they eat forming a symbiotic relationship while providing a more complete nutritional effect for the soil.
Can you put cows and goats in the same pasture?
Goats can share the same pasture or paddock with cows because they are not susceptible to the same parasites. Also, goats browse and cattle graze which makes more complete foraging of pasture.
Can you put cows and sheep in the same paddock?
Grazing sheep and cows on the same paddock can create a problem since sheep may be harmed by mineral feed or supplements made for cattle. Sheep grazing near cattle who have consumed mineral supplements may pick up minute amounts of copper from their manure. It may be better to rotate the sheep in after the cattle’s “dropped cooper” has settled into the soil.
What are the benefits of rotational grazing?
- Increased forage
- Increased soil fertility
- Less Soil compaction
- Drought resistance
- Controlling less desirable forage
- Less waste of forage
- Better control of the use of forage
What are the disadvantages of rotational grazing?
The disadvantages include more time spent moving animals, and the cost and time to build infrastructure for watering, and shelter in each paddock.
The advantages of rotational grazing include increased forage, soil fertility, and drought resistance just to name a few. The disadvantages include more time spent moving animals and infrastructure built for watering and shelter in each paddock.
Multi-species grazing can be a helpful way to cut back on your workload in the long run, diversify your income, and improve your pasture quality.
When using this type of grazing, it is important to keep in mind the order of animals grazed and the type of forage available.
The goal of every farmer or homesteader is to serve more than one purpose at a time while improving the quality of their lives as well as the lives of their livestock.
As always, we’re here to help.