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putting sheep and cattle on the same pasture in rotation

 
Tim Gradin
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I've heard that saliva and nasal secretions from sheep can infect cows somehow if they are allowed on the grass before the sheep secretions have fully dried. Have you had any experience with this? What are the dangers of having sheep and cows use the same pasture in rotation?
 
Adam Klaus
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Tim Gradin wrote:I've heard that saliva and nasal secretions from sheep can infect cows somehow if they are allowed on the grass before the sheep secretions have fully dried. Have you had any experience with this? What are the dangers of having sheep and cows use the same pasture in rotation?


I have never heard of that problem Tim. Nothing in my research has ever mentioned that.

Here is the issue with sheep and cows sharing a pasture, and the reason why the above scenario would never happen in reality:
Sheep graze a pasture down much shorter than cows do. You cannot put cows immediately behind sheep, because of the mechanics of how each animal grazes. Sheep take little nibbles, bringing the pasture down short. Cows grab handfuls of grass with their tongues, ripping it off.

When I have tried to have sheep follow cows, the issue is that the pasture will need an unacceptably long rest period. I have needed to let the pasture regrow for like two months, and that is during the peak of the pasture growth season. That is unacceptable for my pasture management.

Dairy cows, and cattle in general, are a higher value class of livestock, so I do not want to make less than optimal use of my pasture resource feeding sheep. Sheep and cows are largely competitive with one another, so I am taking on extra labor to deal with two species, and also raising a lower value animal with sheep. For these reasons I do not raise sheep anymore, and just keep my stocking numbers as high as my pasture will support with cows.

Sheep are excellent improvers of pasture. With proper grazing management, they will turn an average pasture into a dairy quality pasture faster than any other class of livestock. So it is great to run sheep for a few years without cows, simply to get your pastures where they need to be. Sheep have much lower quality requirements than cows so they will thrive in situations where cows would struggle. All the while improving the pasture.

Thanks for asking about the cows and sheep questions. It's a good one, and one that I have experimented with quite a bit.

good luck!

 
Tim Gradin
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Thanks for your reply, Adam. I appreciated hearing about your experiences.

I live in Saskatchewan, Canada. I did some more inquiring and found out that the disease I had heard about is Malignant Catarrhal Fever (MCF). I found a fact sheet put out by the government of Saskatchewan here: http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/Default.aspx?DN=7191becb-e394-4d97-bf05-99201e91359f

Here is a quote from that source:

Malignant Catarrhal Fever (MCF) is a viral disease mainly of ruminant animals such as cattle, bison, deer and moose. It is usually fatal in highly susceptible species such as bison. Unlike bison, cattle are very resistant to the MCF virus. However, occasional cases in cattle do occur and, when they do, the outcome is usually fatal.

MCF is caused primarily by two different herpes viruses, one type which is found in wildebeest and a different type which is found in sheep. Although these animals can be carriers of the virus, they do not suffer from any ill effects. The wildebeest virus is rare in North America, since animals here exist only in zoos or exotic animal collections. The sheep-associated virus is very common in North America to such a degree that it is assumed that most sheep are carriers.

The virus is shed in the nasal secretions of carrier sheep. Cattle become infected with the virus through direct contact with carrier sheep or their secretions (i.e. contaminated feed bunks or water bowls). While the airborne virus can infect the highly susceptible bison, there is less of a risk for infection in cattle. Cattle are dead-end hosts; that is, cattle with MCF do not spread the virus to other animals.

... There is no vaccine and there is no treatment for this disease.


There are some photos that show the effects of the disease. Maybe this is more of an issue up North than where you are.

Tim
 
Tim Gradin
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That article ends with this:

In most cases, cattle and sheep can be raised together without any problems provided a few basic guidelines are followed:
• Keep young lambs (weaning up to 10-11 months of age) away from cattle;
• Do not mix sheep and cattle during times of stress;
• Do not house sheep and cattle together indoors; and
• Do not pen sheep and cattle together in crowded conditions.
 
Adam Klaus
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Yeah, there are lots of scary things the government loves to remind us about. I'm usually not buying.

The main point that I was trying to make is that with best management practices, sheep and cows should not ever be grazing the same pastures at the same time. They have different grazing needs, and as such, need to be managed separately.

hope that helps!
 
Mat Smith
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Adam Klaus wrote:Sheep are excellent improvers of pasture. With proper grazing management, they will turn an average pasture into a dairy quality pasture faster than any other class of livestock. So it is great to run sheep for a few years without cows, simply to get your pastures where they need to be. Sheep have much lower quality requirements than cows so they will thrive in situations where cows would struggle. All the while improving the pasture.


I found this quote very interesting.
Does anyone know why/how sheep improve pastures so well?
 
R Scott
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They eat the "weeds" that cattle won't. They spread their pellets everywhere, not in big clumps. Their feet cause disturbance that promote favorable plant growth.

As long as you don't over graze. Then they will more it down and kill the good stuff.
 
Mat Smith
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Thanks for the reply.
I might have to do some research into sheep, sounds like they might be worth having on our block.
Mat
 
Darin Colville
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Running poultry in the sheep/cattle pasture works great also. Scattering cow pies and and hugely reducing parasite load on both.
 
Cole Hammonds
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The main point that I was trying to make is that with best management practices, sheep and cows should not ever be grazing the same pastures at the same time. They have different grazing needs, and as such, need to be managed separately
I think a little more clarification needs to be made on this comment. What are these "Best management practices "you speak of. I've had great success running large groups of lambing ewes, 200+, in/with large groups of calving cattle,100+, while maintaining an 180% weaned lamb crop. I have found them to be very complementary. One of the biggest costs in small ruminant production is the loss of gain that is caused by intestinal parasites. Cattle are dead end hosts to the same parasites that plague small's and the same is true with small's as a dead end host to cattle parasites. Cattle with sheep can/will significantly reduce the need to worm both species while improving the average daily gain of both. I have found this to be the key to having a low input small ruminant operation in a humid climate. I cannot speak to any of the diseases that were brought accept to say that I have had none. Run them together.

Dairy cows, and cattle in general, are a higher value class of livestock, so I do not want to make less than optimal use of my pasture resource feeding sheep. Sheep and cows are largely competitive with one another, so I am taking on extra labor to deal with two species, and also raising a lower value animal with sheep. For these reasons I do not raise sheep anymore, and just keep my stocking numbers as high as my pasture will support with cows.

Remember a dairy is probably the most profitable ruminate operation on a per/acre basis, but only with significant labor costs and high quality forage. This cannot be compared to "cattle in general" Only the very best Cow/calf operations are able to keep up with sheep on a per/acre basis and this is only a very recent phenomenon due to the unprecedented rise in the cattle market. The market will most likely fall when the US cattle herd stabilizes and sheep will offer a very good return on grass.

Sheep are excellent improvers of pasture. With proper grazing management, they will turn an average pasture into a dairy quality pasture faster than any other class of livestock. So it is great to run sheep for a few years without cows, simply to get your pastures where they need to be. Sheep have much lower quality requirements than cows so they will thrive in situations where cows would struggle. All the while improving the pasture.

I have found PROPERLY MANAGED cattle can build soil much faster than sheep. This is due to trampling and conditioning effect of the hoof of cattle. The weight of a Bovine can crush litter into contact with the soil surface far better than the small hoof a 100lb ewe. This is what brings soil organic matter up and leads to a thicker, higher quality sward. This must be done at high densities, moved frequently and preferably with dry cows. Sheep will eat more "weeds" than cattle so why not run them together and increase your utilization. And why not throw some goats in there while your at it..if your fences allow.
 
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