Multi-species grazing isn’t a new concept. Ranchers have been getting maximum use out of their pastures by running cattle and sheep together for years. However, this concept is becoming popular again as producers look to increase profits by diversifying and utilizing available acres without having to rent more land.
Recently, Marcus McCartney, Ohio State University (OSU) Extension educator, explored this topic in an article titled, “Using goats to improve cattle pastures,” which was published in the weekly OSU Beef Cattle Letter.
McCartney writes, “Don’t perceive goat ownership as a chore or inconvenience but rather embrace it, think positive, and start letting the goats work for you.”
Here are four reasons why McCartney thinks goats could improve cattle pastures and your ranching operation:
1. Goats are great weed managers
“For beef producers, goats are incorporated into the operation with the goal of brush and weed management for new or existing pastures,” writes McCartney. “For establishing new pastures, goats are great at cleaning up brush and unwanted vegetation prior to the initial investment of starting a new pasture (seeding, liming, fertilizing, etc.) and loading with livestock.”
2. Goats can graze on steep terrain
Have steep hills where cattle and people don’t dare to climb? Send a few goats that way, and your weed problem and the surrounding vegetation will be consumed, saving you money on herbicides and labor and adding use to otherwise unused acres.
3. Goats can clear brush that cattle won’t touch
“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% down to 15% in one year,” says McCartney. “After five years of grazing, goats reduced brush cover to 2%. 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.”
4. Goats reduce parasites
“Another major benefit which goes sometimes unnoticed is the decreased load of gastrointestinal parasites,” he writes. “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.”
While goats may not be for everyone, they could be a viable solution for beef producers to help control unwanted vegetation in existing pastures. This option makes sense as cattle are grazers and goats are browsers, meaning they won’t compete for the same forages if co-existing in a pasture.
You may need an upgrade in fencing and some methods for predator control, but if your kids and grandkids have been begging for goats as their next 4-H project, you may want to consider the option as an investment in the ranch, too.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.