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Arkansas Extension Small Ruminants
Dr. Dan QuadrosAsst. Professor - Small Ruminants
Phone: 501-425-4657Fax: 501-671-2185Email: email@example.com
By Dr. Dan Quadros, UADA Small Ruminants Specialist
Pamela Rogers, UofA graduate student
July 27, 2023
Adding sheep and goats to a cow-calf or stocker/background operations can increase
efficiency of livestock production.
The benefits of adding small ruminants in a beef cattle operation includes, but are
not limited to:
Adapting existing beef cattle facilities to small ruminants makes the process cheaper,
easier, and with lower break-even point. Before discussing economics, it is important
to follow the steps to adapt your farm to manage small ruminants with the 5 Fs:
Arkansas is in the climatic transition zone, that supports a variety of forage plants,
such as warm and cool season, perennial and annual grasses, as well as forage legumes.
For instance, if you cultivate summer annuals and small grains, it can help bridge
the gap of a lack of forage quantity and quality between growing seasons, diversify
forage sources, and provide nutrients to increase the performance of livestock. When
adding small ruminants to your farm, remember to choose forage species based on adaptability,
yield, management, and nutritional value.
While cattle prefer grasses, sheep have a considerable proportion of forbs in their
diets, and goats prefer a majority of forbs and shrubs (Figure 1). Small ruminants
have the ability to consume plants that are undesirable to cattle. Sheep and, notably,
goats have a larger liver (by body weight percentage) and they also have a more active
detoxification system than cattle, that allows them to process a higher concentration
of substances that cause unpalatability.
Adapted from Walker et al. (2006) by Whaley and Bachler (2022)
Figure 1. Dietary overlap of ruminant livestock
If forages are available, you can begin your co-grazing project by adding one ewe
or doe per cow. There are two options for how the animals should graze, separately
or through flerding methods. Flerding is another word for co-species grazing. If the
animals are separated, small ruminants do not have the protection against predators
that cattle can offer, but it is safer regarding water systems, supplements/minerals
and can limit competition amongst the animals.
A rotational grazing system is recommended for co-grazing projects because of the
different grazing behaviors and nutritional needs. When rotating your animals, allow
the sheep and goats to graze first and have the cattle follow since they consume more
fibrous parts of the plants and can reduce parasite loads.
It is important to not let small ruminants overgraze to avoid consuming larvae that
are at the lower parts of the plants. Most larvae are located at a height of four
inches and below. Avoiding these lower forage heights can drastically reduce the parasite
load in the animals.
Special feeders can be placed on the fields that are high enough for cattle to reach
but limit the accessibility for sheep and goats. Goats are known for their ability
to climb, though.
It is important to mention that cattle, goats and sheep have different mineral requirements.
For instance, goats have a moderate copper requirement, but if a sheep is fed copper
for a lengthy period of time, it can lead to toxicity. If raised together, it is safer to use sheep minerals for both sheep and goats and
supplement copper for goats when necessary.
If your herd is fed via trough, then it is a good idea to separate the cows and sheep/goats
during mealtime and fill the troughs beforehand or use a feeding device that does
not allow the sheep and goat access to feeds as cattle feeds can cause metabolic problems
in small ruminants.
Working facilities and equipment for small ruminants are simple additions if there
are already cattle facilities in place. Extra items can include a shorter water tank,
working chute, space in the current handling facility and type of fencing. Shelter
is recommended to protect small ruminants against inclement weather, mainly for goats.
Conventional permanent fencing for small ruminants that works very well is woven wire
fencing. But, to reduce the investment, 5-8 strings, electrified high-tensile wire
fencing became popular, with electric netting/tape/rope/twine mobile fences as cross
fencing. Electric tape does not work well for wooled sheep.
Remember that small ruminants, notably goats, are more difficult to contain than cattle.
Goats can hop on and duck underneath a fence. Therefore, it is a good idea to invest
in fencing that will last and support both cows and small ruminants, as well as protect
against predators like coyotes and neighborhood dogs.
Adapting your existing fence to sheep and goats requires using additional wire strings
or hot wires. If you have, for instance, a 5-string barber wire fence, you will need
to add 3 more strings, two below the first string (4” apart) and one additional string
between your current first and second strings. If the new wires are electrified, it
is even better for deterring predators.
Adding small ruminants in a cattle operation could mean more investments in facilities,
feed, and labor, but, if managed well, the financial return is guaranteed. The scenario
below is a hypothetical case based on adding sheep to an existing cow-calf operation.
Prices based on historical prices for calves and lambs.
In case you decide to background them on farm and sell the lambs with 80lb, the price
per pound may reduce a bit, but you can increase gross revenue:
75 lambs x 80 lb x $ 2.2/lb = $ 13,200 of gross revenue, considering 30 to 55% net
profit = $ 3,960 to 7,260 (+25 to 46% extra).
In summary, adding small ruminants to a beef cattle operation can increase efficiency
and generate extra net profit from 20 to 46%. However, small ruminants require investment,
mainly in fencing, and management as they are more labor-intensive than cattle.
Rinehart, L. (2018, September). Multispecies grazing: A Primer on diversity. Multispecies
Grazing: A Primer on Diversity. NCAT/ATTRA. Available through ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture Accessed 06-26-23
Walker, J.W.; Coffey, L.; Faller, T. (2006). Improving grazing lands with multi-species
grazing. Targeted grazing: a natural approach to vegetation management and landscape
enhancement, 50-55. Available through from Nebraska Extension Accessed 06-26-23.
Whaley, J.; Bachler, J. (2022) Multispecies Grazing: Benefits of Sheep Integration on Rangelands. Accessed 06-26-23.