UGA Forage Extension Team

Turn Weeds into Feed with Multispecies Grazing

 

By Will Lovett and Cole Madray (UGA Intern)
Bacon County CEC

Anyone that has grazed cattle and horses knows how quickly they can clear a field of grass and legumes, but will not touch anything they may not want to eat. The grasses, forbs and legumes ignored by some grazing animals are weeds that compete for nutrients and water with the preferred forage species. This places us in an endless battle with nature to keep weeds out of our pastures. Labor, machinery and herbicide costs for weed control can be an expensive, but required annual investment. Managing undesirable plants in our pastures using multispecies grazing can turn weeds into feed.

This method of management works through preferential grazing. Goats, sheep, cows and horses prefer to eat different percentages of grasses, legumes, forbs and shrubs and have different grazing styles.  Cows and horses typically prefer eating grass, goats prefer to browse on young leaves of shrubs and forbs while sheep will choose an even split between forbs and grass.

Approxiamate % of Diet if Given Choice

Animal Species Grasses Legumes Browse
Cattle 65-75 20-30 5-10
Horses 70-80 15-25 0-5
Sheep 45-55 30-40 10-20
Goats 20-30 10-30 30-50

Below are some examples of these plants and animals preference to them. The stocking density of each species can be adjusted depending on your goals. For instance, if you would like to clear a pasture that is overgrown with shrubs, use a higher stocking density of goats initially. As grasses replace shrubs and forbs, lower the goat stocking rate and add more cattle or horses.

Stocking rates will vary depending on the quality of pasture, your goals and the species used for grazing. For an excellent “grassy” pasture, it is best to have one cow for every one (or possibly two) goats; for pasture with less grass and more brush or forbs (broadleaf weeds), stocking rate of goats or sheep increase and cattle or horses decrease.

Internal parasite control, fencing, and livestock facilities are primary considerations. Depending upon the species used and the method of grazing, internal parasite risk can increase or decrease. Goats and sheep share many of the same internal parasites though their preferred grazing styles differ. Goats typically like to eat above the shoulder and spread out. The lower on the plant they have to eat, the more of them placed in a field, and the fewer number of times they get rotated out all increase a goat or sheep likelihood of getting worms. Rotating horses or cattle with small ruminants (sheep and goats) may reduce internal parasite exposure, since cattle and horses share few parasites with small ruminants. Responsibly managing density and plant height (keep it above 4 inches) as well as rotating cattle or other animals through the same fields can reduce the likelihood that you would have to deworm your goats or sheep. It is also important to ensure proper fencing as sheep, and especially goats, are quite the escape artists. Typical fencing for cattle has holes large enough for a goat or sheep to put its head (or even whole body) through. It is necessary to reinforce or create new fencing with woven wire or several hot wires (at 10, 20, and 36 inches minimum). If there is any debris near the edge, goats will climb and hop over it. Goats also need proper shelter (more so than sheep) as they are not as tolerant of rain or other adverse weather conditions as cattle are. In addition, depending on the area, goats and sheep may need a lot more protection against predators like coyotes. On smaller operations, donkeys or llamas can work to deter predators, but on larger operations, better fencing or a guard dog may be required. Livestock working facilities will likely create an additional investments. Headgates, chutes, and raceways sized for cattle are too large for small ruminants.,

The feasibility of multispecies grazing all depends heavily on your operational goals and your rational grazing plan. Multispecies grazing can be beneficial for weed management and for diversifying your operation.