JT writes: Lee, I just read an article you wrote about multi species grazing. I have a 30 cow calf herd in Zanesville, Ohio. I’m interested in running sheep with my cattle. I currently have 7 wire lifetim fence with two hot wires. The hot wires are 12” and around 36” high. Do you have any advice for me on this project. I ultimately want to grain feed the lambs to a finish weight of &round 130lbs. I rotate my cattle about every other day. We do hear coyote some nights. Please share your thoughts. Thanks in advance for you feedback.

Answer: Hello JT, I have put together some of my thoughts and gone through some of my resources to continue our conversation on adding sheep to a beef herd.

First, the pasture. Of fescue and clovers offer excellent forage for sheep, but like cattle they will need to be managed such to reduce the chance of fescue toxicosis. This can be done by managing plant height by grazing or clipping (as you do) which also will help foster more legumes in the stand. Also, fescue can be used as stockpile to extend grazing into the winter with negligible consequences from toxicosis.

The fence seems quite adequate to me. Three hot wires will work nicely. The only issue here, which may or may not be an issue depending on how you manage the paddocks, is that the fences are permanent, and it limits your ability to size pastures for specific grazing periods. If polywire is something you might think about, you could use two strands to divide permanent fields to better control the amount of forage you offer for a grazing event. I have attached a publication on adaptive grazing which covers this if you are interested.

I am a little concerned about the Ritchey ball waterers for sheep, because of the height and perhaps the pressure needed to push the ball. I've never used these on sheep. If the height is too tall you could build a wooden step about 6 inches wide at the waterer so sheep can access it without causing undo trouble for the cattle. Do you have sheep producers near you whom you know? Perhaps some advice on the use of ball waterers could be obtained from them. As for breed you'll need to consider how you are going to market them. Meat breeds can be chosen from hair sheep or wool breeds. Wool sheep are known for growth and carcass characteristics, are accepted in the traditional markets, produce marketable wool, and are widely available. Hair sheep are less seasonal than wooled sheep, have higher lambing percentages than many wooled breeds, and some hair breeds show resistance to internal parasites. Hair sheep are also heat tolerant and there is no wool to shear or market and you don’t have to dock tails. Meat wool breeds include Suffolk, Hampshire, Oxford, Shropshire, Texel, and Southdown. Hair breeds that are good for meat include Katahdin, Dorper, St. Croix, Barbados, and Blackbelly.

So basically, I think you are on the right track. I would consider starting with 1 ewe per 2 cows and work up to a 1:1 ratio. This will happen quickly as sheep usually twin so your herd/flock will grow exponentially. Young sheep bond with cattle easier that older sheep, and you can place them together in a pen for two weeks while they get to know each other. After that, the sheep will often not range far from the cattle.

Let me know how this works for you and we can keep up the conversation and exchange ideas.

Resources

Multispecies Grazing: A Primer on Diversity
Pasture, Rangeland, and Adaptive Grazing
Sheep: Sustainable and Organic Production

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