Multi-species grazing is the practice of using two or more livestock species together or separately on the same pasture-land in a specific growing season. 

With an understanding of the different grazing behaviors of each species, various combinations of animals can be used to more efficiently utilize the forages in a pasture.

Goats are natural browsers and prefer to graze or browse with their heads up — just like deer if given the opportunity — which makes them ideal for clearing brushy understory.

For example, goats can be used to harvest and clear underbrush (including smaller trees) in selected areas. 

They can consume vegetation in steep dangerous terrain where making an herbicide application or clearing with machinery is difficult.

In a recent study of goats grazing in a power line right of way for five years in West Virginia, the brush was reduced from 45 percent down to 15 percent in one year. After five years of grazing, goats reduced brush cover to 2 percent.

In this environment, vines constitute a significant portion of a goat’s diet, including saplings, young leafy trees, briars, brambles, sumac, and broadleaf weeds. 

However, they will not eat through the hard bark of mature trees but may girdle younger, thinly barked trees if better forage is unavailable. Mature trees can remain undamaged as long as the goats have other forage to graze or browse.

Although research indicates that multi-species grazing can contribute to more efficient and uniform use of pastures, the results will vary with the type of pasture. 

Land that includes grasses, forbs, and browse are best utilized with multi-species grazing. Land that is uniformly in grass may best be utilized for cattle or horse production. 

Multi-species grazing can improve utilization of forages by less than 5% to more than 20%, depending primarily on the type of vegetation on the land and the mix of animals used.

Most studies indicate better pasture use and production when sheep, cattle and goats are grazing and browsing together, as opposed to grazing alone.

The combination of grasses, forbs, and browse provides for the more efficient use of multiple species for grazing, sometimes increasing meat production per acre by over 20 percent.

The different dietary preferences and grazing behaviors result in greater plant use, which means heavier stocking rates and increased production from a unit of land.

The breakdown of plant preferences is as follows for goats and cattle: 

• Goats: grass 20 percent, weeds 20 percent, and browse 60 percent.

• Cattle: grass 70 percent, weeds 20 percent and browse 10 percent.

In this respect, goats do not compete much with beef cattle. 

This is one reason the most noticeable benefit for multi-species grazing for producers is brush and weed management.

Although there are individual preferences, data do not show if forages are utilized more efficiently if small ruminants graze before or after cattle.

Another major benefit, which goes sometimes unnoticed, is the decreased load of gastrointestinal parasites. 

Goat and sheep parasites cannot survive in the stomach of cattle and parasites from cattle cannot survive in the stomach of goats or sheep. 

Therefore, multi-species grazing will decrease gastrointestinal parasite loads and slow resistance of gastrointestinal parasites to conventional dewormers.

In summary, producers with cattle can obtain greater pounds of meat per acre and can reduce weeds and brush in a pasture when adding small ruminants for multi-species grazing. 

These benefits need to be compared to the additional labor and fencing requirements for the small ruminants as well as the costs of predator control for sheep and/or goats.

Sources:

Goat Pastures Multi-Species Grazing Can Improve Utilization of Pastures, By Jodie Pennington, Small Ruminant Educator, Lincoln University.

Using Goats to Improve Cattle Pastures, Marcus McCartney, OSU Extension AgNR Educator, Washington County