Question of the Week
Answer: Most of the differences between paddock systems for sheep and cattle will be based on diet preferences, pasture composition, fencing, and grazing habits. Sheep tend to browse, preferring forbs over grass while cattle diets consist primarily of grass. Sheep have a higher preference for leafy forage over stemmy ones, when compared to cattle. For both species, the best pastures usually contain a mixture of grasses and legumes. It is recommended to have more than one species of grass and legumes in your pasture. It is important to remember that each paddock needs water and shelter.
Fencing for the two species is accomplished differently. Perimeter fencing is most commonly permanent fence, either electric or unpowered. Cattle can be fenced with non-electrified barbed or woven wire. Perimeter fencing for sheep or multi-species normally requires woven wire. Temporary fencing of pasture paddocks for cattle can be accomplished through the use of a single line of polywire and "tread in" temporary posts. While some graziers are successful in fencing sheep by this method, most are not. It all depends on the stocking density (number of animals per acre) and how well the sheep are trained to the electric fence. Alternatively, electric nets effectively keep sheep and goats in and predators out. The electric nets can also be moved very quickly. As with all powered fence systems, an adequately sized fence energizer and a well-constructed fence are paramount to your success.
More information on fencing techniques and stock-watering systems can be found in the ATTRA publications Paddock Design, Fencing and Water Systems for Controlled Grazing, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=249, and Rotational Grazing, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=245.
Diet Preferences of Sheep vs. Cattle
Sheep prefer a forage diet of 40% grass, 40% forbs, and 20% browse, while cattle prefer a forage diet of 60% grass, 20% forbs, and 20% browse.
The stocking rate is the number of a specific kind and class of animals grazing a unit of land for a specified time period. The carrying capacity is the maximum stocking rate possible while maintaining or improving vegetation or related sources. Both are often expressed as Animal Unit Months (AUM).
Definition of Animal Unit (AU): 1,000 pounds of body weight
Definition of Animal Unit Month (AUM): Amount of forage that an animal unit will consume in one month.
The stocking rate for your paddock will depend on animal species, quality and quantity of forage (total available forage), and animal demand for forage. Therefore, the stocking rate for sheep and cattle will differ.
Multi-species grazing (cattle and sheep) is an excellent management strategy. Not only is pasture utilization improved, parasite control is enhanced to the point that in many areas of the country, chemical dewormers are not neccessary. This is especially true if the grazing management techniques of adequate pasture rest, residual management, and short paddock grazing periods are employed.
For additional information on pasture design and utilization, consult the following ATTRA publications:
Pasture, Rangeland and Grazing Management
Irrigated Pastures: Setting Up an Intensive Grazing System that Works
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