“I believe there is an opportunity to benefit the range and economically benefit the operator.” That’s what Nelson, Nebraska rancher Mike Wallace says of multi-species grazing, which involves grazing two or even three species of livestock together on rangeland. Wallace and his wife Fran own and operate Double M Ranch and have been grazing sheep, cattle and goats together since 2000.
Wallace points out that because of the diversification of plant species on the land, diversification of the animals grazing the land is also important. He explains that cattle prefer taller, coarse grasses; sheep prefer forbs, shorter annual grasses and weedy species; goats browse brush and cedar trees. “Because of the different species’ preference multi-species grazing works without negatively impacting the performance of the animal or sustainability of the resources,” affirms Wallace.
The Wallace’s currently run 40 cows, 230 ewes and 40 nannies on several hundred acres that is cross-fenced into small paddocks for rotational grazing. Their land is a mixture of mid-tall grass prairie, former cropland, and abandoned cattle feedlots. Cows calve mid-April; sheep are put in a separate paddock in May for lambing — then return to the herd. Goats are drylotted from January through April to provide protection from the winter elements and to kid. They return to the herd in May when young goat kids are a month old. Other than those exceptions, the herd runs together year-round and utilizes the same mineral. Wallace uses holistic planned grazing mapped out on a spreadsheet to give guidance to his rotations through the grazing year.
Of his multi-species grazing experiences, Wallace, who was the sheep operations manager at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center near Clay Center, Neb. from 1978 through 2012, has been impressed by two outcomes. Foremost, he believes that including goats in his grazing has cleared his pastures of cedar trees. He reports that neighboring land has hundreds of ankle-high cedar trees, while Double M Ranch pastures do not.
Second, Wallace’s land includes 17 acres of abandoned cattle feedlot pens. He tried to plant it to grass, but it has continued to be overgrown with weeds. Wallace has cross-fenced the area into several small paddocks and grazes it. He reports, “It’s weedy, but they love to eat it. I get tremendous carrying capacity from it.” He grazes it in early May and returns to the area to regraze every 4 to 6 weeks.
For others interested in multi-species grazing, Wallace advises a herd mix that provides a stocking rate based on pounds of animals of about 40 percent cattle, 40 percent sheep and 20 percent goats. He says cattle are the base, then the operator can decide if they want to run sheep or goats or both. But he reiterates that goats can be beneficial for cedar control.
Wallace acknowledges that sheep and goats can require some additional fencing. He uses a single electrified wire with existing 3 to 5 strand barbwire fences. Additionally cross fences are two-strand electrified hi-tensile. He says predation is another issue, especially for sheep. But he runs guard dogs, a llama and a donkey with each herd and has found that to be effective.
For others interested in learning more about Double M Ranch’s multi-species grazing efforts, they maintain a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Double-M-138083779651280/) to share information. Since 2010, Wallace has also been active with the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, and says the organization’s tours, workshops and meetings provide a great conduit for sharing grazing-related experiences.