How can I manage mineral supplementation in multispecies grazing?

Answer: Grazing different species together can cause some logistical problems that go beyond fencing and working facilities, and it requires producers to think about new ways of accommodating the needs of different animals. One of these issues is mineral supplementation. It is well known that cattle mineral should not be fed to sheep due to sheep’s lower tolerance of copper. As cattle mineral has more copper in it than sheep need, toxicity can occur if sheep consume it.

There are a few tricks producers can use to help ensure that animals get the minerals they need without overdosing on copper. One way is to feed sheep mineral to all species. This can work during much of the year without a problem, though it might be necessary to provide more copper to cattle during their third trimester of gestation, to meet all their needs. Then, it’s advisable, if all species are still pastured together, to feed cattle mineral in a feeder that is at least 30 inches high to keep it out of reach of the sheep. In this instance, a creep feeder can be set up for sheep to access mineral that is more appropriate for them.

If you use a leader-follower method, where cattle and sheep are on different pastures, you could use portable feeders to provide each species their customized minerals. If your operation includes cattle and goats but not sheep, you may simply offer a good cattle mineral to both. Another method is to provide copper boluses (copper oxide) for sheep and goats. This not only provides necessary mineral but can help with parasite control

Poultry litter and swine manure are commonly used on many livestock farms for pasture fertility. If you have sheep, be careful with this practice, as these manures tend to have higher concentrations of copper than cattle manure. Testing soils and forages will be the best way to learn the mineral status of your pastures. In some regions of the country, forages are copper-deficient even with poultry litter being used. It’s a great idea to work with a nutritionist on mineral supplementation.

Get more information in the ATTRA publication Multispecies Grazing: A Primer on Diversity. This publication discusses the principles and practices of grazing multiple species of livestock on pastures. You’ll find a discourse on the benefits of multispecies grazing on productivity and profitability, including its positive impacts on pasture diversity and health.

You’ll also find a wide array of additional resources in the Livestock & Pasture section of the ATTRA website.