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Multi-species Grazing

Introduction

Multispecies grazing refers to grazing by two or more species of grazing animals on the same land unit, not necessarily at the same time, but within the same grazing season. Multispecies grazing provides a great opportunity for optimizing use of plant species on a pasture, as different livestock species prefer different plants. This maximizes forage utilization, translating into higher animal production rates per acre, lower costs of production and better returns for producers.

Grazing strategies

Some grazing strategies that are used with multispecies grazing are:

  • Mob grazing - all the animals are run as one group.
  • Leader/follower grazing - one flock/herd is run through a paddock first, then a second flock/herd runs through the same paddock immediately after. The stock with the highest nutrient requirements have first access to the paddock, while the stock with lower nutrient requirements follow, grazing the sward down closely.
  • Alternated grazing - a variation of the leader/follower system. One type of animal is run during one period over a group of paddocks, then another type of animal is run at a later period.

In all systems, the Grassfarmer must monitor forage utilization and allow sufficient rest for the grazed plant to regrow and replenish the stored nutrients.

Advantages

Improved pasture

  • Multiple species, with their unique dietary preferences, will result in plant communities that are more resistant not only to grazing impacts but to other factors affecting ecosystem stability, such as drought.
  • Compared with single species grazing, multiple species of animals use resources more uniformly, which can also enhance ecosystem stability, according to land managers.
  • Many plants that are toxic to cattle, including larkspur, leafy spurge, tansy ragwort and pine needles do not harm sheep, which have a greater ability to neutralize the plant toxins. Grazing sheep over the infested areas can reduce the risk of poisoning to cattle.
  • Sheep and goats may be used to control brushy plant species that invade grassy habitats. Once the grasses return, the pasture may be more suited to cattle grazing.
  • Leafy spurge and other noxious weeds pose a tremendous threat to cattle producers. Cattle will not eat these weeds, so the weeds quickly spread and choke out the more suitable forage. Sheep are a herbicide-free alternative for this weed problem. Sheep find leafy spurge palatable and can provide about 95% control of the weed.

Higher livestock production

Livestock production is higher when species, such as cattle and sheep graze together. This is due to the increased carrying capacity of the land and increased individual animal performance.

Prevent Losses

  • Parasites are a concern with sheep, under any system. Worm eggs are deposited on the pasture in the manure; the eggs hatch and larvae are consumed by grazing animals. If left untreated, concentrations of animals on a pasture may tend to magnify the infestation. Parasites are species-specific, so cattle parasites affect cattle, not sheep and sheep parasites affect sheep and not cattle. The cattle act as 'vacuum cleaners', ingesting the sheep worm larvae, preventing the larvae from affecting the sheep. This is most helpful when sheep and cattle follow each other in a leader/follower type grazing system.
  • Grazing sheep and cattle together may result in fewer losses of sheep to predators since cattle are larger and tend to be more aggressive.

Diversification

By diversifying the species you run on pasture, you can effectively buffer your bank account. Different species' have different price cycles. So, the price cycle of the one species may offset the highs and lows of the other species' price cycle. Another option for small farmers may be to add pastured poultry to the operation as it is easily direct-marketed for top prices.

Disadvantages

Extra resources

  • Fencing may need to be adjusted, if adding sheep to a pasture that was set up for cattle.
  • If adding a new species to an operation, different handling facilities and/or buildings may be needed.
  • More managing is required, especially with rotational grazing.

Mineral toxicity

  • Supplemental feeding of trace minerals may be a problem. The mineral supplement that is adequate for sheep may not be so for cattle and a mineral supplement that is best for cattle may contain copper and be toxic to sheep, as sheep do not tolerate too much copper.
  • If hog manure was applied to the pasture, forage samples should be taken and tested for mineral content. Hog manure can contain high levels of copper, so find out what the levels are in the forage, to ensure that it is not toxic to the sheep.

Parasites

Pairing sheep with goats may pose a parasite problem. Sheep and goats are affected by the same internal parasites.

Johnes

  • Johnes is caused by bacteria and is an infectious disease in many ruminant animals.
  • Infection occurs by eating feed contaminated with fecal material.
  • Infected sheep on pasture may contaminate the pasture for other grazing animals, if the disease is present.
  • The bacteria can survive in the environment for perhaps as long as a year and resistant to disinfectants and to drying by the sun.
  • Infected pasture should not be used for other animals

Malignant Cattarhal Fever (MCF)

  • MCF is a rare disease, but has occurred in bison, elk and cattle in Mantioba.
  • MCF is caused by the "OHV-2" virus that is carried by the sheep and there is no known vaccine for this virus.
  • Sheep do not show visible symptoms and they will pass this disease onto other animals.
  • MCF is spread by direct contact from nasal secretions and placenta.
  • It is recommended to not graze sheep with bison because once bison are affected, majority will die.
  • Care must be taken when sheep are grazing on the same land as deer, elk and cattle, as these animals are susceptible to MCF. It is best to avoid directly pasturing cattle, elk, or deer with your sheep. Simply ensure that there is distance separating these species. Rotate pasture instead of direct mixing, waiting a few days in between to allow for the pasture to decontaminate (it is a short-lived virus).
  • Stress appears to me a major factor in transmission and susceptibility of animals to this disease, so keep animals healthy and stress free.

Summary

The primary objective of multispecies grazing is to improve the grazing efficiency or utilization of available range resources, while maintaining or improving animal production. Multispecies grazing can provide economic and ecological advantages over single-species grazing due to differences in dietary preferences and foraging behaviour of the animals. A well-managed multispecies grazing program that is in harmony with the environment will slow and eventually prevent weed spread, enabling native grasses to reestablish, proliferate and ultimately contribute to increased carrying capacity on your land.


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