Grazing sheep and cattle together

Summer PastureResponsible livestock management requires investing time in reading and researching ways to improve upon what you are already doing. Not long ago I was reading an article on the topic of pasture management and to paraphrase what I read: “A good livestock producer is little more than an expert in grass.” Horticulture has never been one of my strong points, but we are making strides to make our wonderful pasture and even better and more productive environment for our animals.

Last year, towards the end of the season, our flock had grown and they were close to running out of healthy pasture and eating what they had to the ground. We made plans over the winter to improve on this and in the Spring embarked on the first phase of our pasture management program by fencing in several more acres to give the sheep access to a healthier rotation of grass. The result has been very positive and the sheep have had plenty of grass this year.

The issue we have run in to this year is that with so much rain, the grass has grown, and grown, and grown some more. So much so that in some of the pastures the grass is so tall that you can’t see the sheep! This may not seem an issue at first thought, but there are two major concerns, at least for us:

  1. If you can’t see the sheep, it also means that potential predators have a much better chance of sneaking up on the flock.
  2. The sheep do not receive very much nutrition from the top portion of the grass, but rather from the lower 2-4 inches

My initial and immediate response was to take the mower to the field and cut the tops off the grass. The problem was that with so much rain this year the grass grew much faster than I had the time to manage in this way. As we continued to read about this subject, we stumbled onto some articles mentioning the benefit of grazing cattle and sheep on the same pasture. Here are some of those articles:

We have really wanted to focus on our sheep production and thought long and hard about the financial, labor and other inputs required by adding cattle to our little operation. After much research, we made the decision to give it a try. If it does result in a positive experience, so much the better. If not, we are in Texas after all and we could actually earn a little extra from adding a small cattle operation.

We researched several breeds and settled on the British White. This past Saturday we spent the better part of the day driving through scenic Texas byways to a wonderful little ranch and picked up our first heifer (a young female cow that has not produced offspring). We let her into our pasture and she immediately began working on our little experiment.

The donkeys and the dogs weren’t quite sure what to think about the new arrival, but they are quickly adapting to their new reality. Ada (our new cow) spent the better part of the night and morning rather far away from the barn and other animals, but by lunch time she had already come up to me and eaten a few cattle cubes from my hand. I already think she has found a place in our hearts and makes a great addition to Whirl’d Works Farm.

2 Comments on “Grazing sheep and cattle together

  1. I’ve been fascinated by the “pasture mix” made on the farm over at The Kitchens Garden. She mixes so many interesting things together to sow in pastures for her pigs. I’m not sure if it translates well to your livestock our plans, but thought I’d share another source of possible learning that I’d stumbled upon. 🙂
    I wonder if the cows will also help protect from predators. We kept a llama with our flock when I was a child. We didn’t lose any lambs to the coyote after adding the llama.

    • Thank you for stopping by! Yes, I’m pretty sure the cows will help with the predators as well. Pasture improvement is definitely high on our list, but there is a pretty steep learning curve. We don’t have the best soil here, mostly sandy loam, but we’re slowly getting the upper hand.

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