joint grazing

Raising cattle and sheep together might not be as idyllic as this photo, but there are certainly opportunities for the right grazier to work with both species

CARRINGTON, N.D. – At the recent Central Dakota Ag Day that was held at the Carrington Research Extension Center on Dec. 19, an interesting grazing concept was presented to those attending a series of grazing meetings.

The concept of joint grazing of cattle and sheep was raised by Travis Hoffman, Extension sheep specialist for North Dakota and Minnesota.

Hoffman used the term co-grazing to describe the practice of grazing cattle and sheep together, and he described two different methods in this process. The cattle and sheep could be in the same pasture at the same time, or the cattle could be given access to the rangeland first and that would be followed by the sheep grazing the same land once the cattle are moved.

In doing the split grazing, he suggested always starting out first with the cattle having access to the pasture because sheep generally have a heavier parasitic load.

The cattle use their tongue to grasp the blade of grass and take that into their mouth, often grazing 4 inches above the soil surface. Sheep, however, have a different grazing pattern, where they eat more with their lips than with their tongues, and come in contact with parasitic worms or larvae.

“Cattle and sheep co-grazing can be more productive and provide the opportunity to capitalize on different feedstuffs that are in the pastures,” Hoffman said. “Cattle, in general, prefer grasses and sheep will consume more broadleaf forbs and even weeds. Co-grazing will allow for consumption of a more diverse vegetative profile.”

Running the cattle and sheep together at the same time in the same pasture can cause a problem with predation for the sheep, Hoffman noted, and there might be a bonding problem between the cattle and sheep. In an effort to minimize the getting-along-problem, he suggests using younger animals and also running them together for a period of time before they go to pasture.

Finally, co-mingling the species might cause a need to upgrade the fencing requirements.

Separate watering facilities may be required for the sheep and cattle in either co-grazing situations, since the sheep have a much lower profile. It is also necessary, if the two species are kept together, that the sheep only have access to mineral with no copper content.

There are additional benefits of co-grazing besides improving the rangeland and the corresponding soil health, Hoffman noted. It can be illustrated that there is a profit potential from co-grazing as well. He based much of his argument on work that has been done by Kris Ringwall, director of the Dickinson Research Extension Center. A co-grazing practice has been in place for several years there that has shown a profit.

Running sheep with each cow can increase the net return by 65 percent, according to Ringwald.

To explain how a figure is arrived at using current market prices Hoffman said a 600-pound calf at weaning time should bring around $1.70/pound live weight for a total of $1,020. The cow costs involved would be about $700 for that calf leaving a profit of $320 per calf.

Getting on average one and one-half lambs per ewe and taking them to a 100-pound market weight and selling them for $2.00 per pound will result in $300 and the ewe cost would be $160, or a profit of $140 per ewe. Estimating that you can run six ewes in the place of one cow, that would be $140 profit per ewe times 6 for a profit figure of $840 compared to the $320 profit amount for a calf.

In closing Hoffman said, “If I said it was going to be easy to throw sheep out there, I would be wrong. But there are some opportunities if we can minimize our predation problems, and we can mitigate our cost on fencing.”