Benefits of Multi-Species Grazing Can be Maximized

Multi-species grazing has several benefits that favor both fields and animals, according to Jodie Pennington, PhD, small ruminant educator with Lincoln University Extension in Missouri.

Multi-species grazing is the practice of using two or more species of livestock together or separately on the same land in a specific growing season.

"With an understanding of the different grazing behaviors of each species, various combinations of animals can be used to more efficiently use the forages in a pasture," said Pennington.

Grazing Behaviors
Different species of livestock prefer different forages and graze them to different heights.

For example, cattle tend to be intermediate grazers. They graze grasses and legumes and bite with their mouth and tongue.

Sheep and horses, on the other hand, graze closer to the ground than cattle.

Sheep and goats eat forbs, or brushy plants with a fleshy stem and leaves, better than cattle or horses. Many weeds in a grass pasture are forbs.

Cattle and horses tend to graze grasses better than small ruminants such as sheep and goats.

Goats are browsers and prefer to graze with their heads up. Browse is the tender shoots, twigs, and leaves of trees or shrubs that are acceptable for grazing.

"Goats browse like deer if given the opportunity. They will eat higher growing plants such as forbs and shrubs as well as high-growing grasses," said Pennington.

With their mobile upper lip, goats can select individual leaves and strip bark off woody plants. Their unique lip allows them to eat the parts of a plant that are highly nutritious while leaving behind the less digestible parts, such as the thorns and branches of blackberries and multiflora rose.

Both goats and sheep will eat weeds although goats prefer browse more than do sheep.Benefits
Brush and weed management is the most noticeable benefit from multi-species grazing.

"Although research indicates multi-species grazing can contribute to more efficient and uniform use of pastures, the results will vary with the type of pasture," said Pennington.

Land that includes grasses, forbs, and browse are best used with multi-species grazing. Land that is uniformly grass might best be used for cattle or horse production.

Varying terrain mighy also lend itself to multi-species grazing. If the terrain is steep and rough, goats and sheep are superior to cattle for handling the terrain.

Multi-species grazing can improve use of forages by less than 5% to more than 20%, depending on the type of vegetation on the land and the mix of animals used.

"There are individual preferences in the animals, but research does not define whether it is better to graze small ruminants before or after cattle," said Pennington. "Usually small ruminants are used to eating weeds and browse that cattle do not eat in a multi-species regime."

--David Burton





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University of Missouri

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