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Sept. 8, 2021
By Ryan McGeeneyU of A System Division of Agriculture
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It doesn’t take a champion mutton buster to know that sheep graze
differently from cattle, although the underlying forage base is typically the same.
Dirk Philipp, associate professor of animal science for the University of Arkansas
System Division of Agriculture, recently led an Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station research team in efforts
to restore an overgrazed novel-endophyte tall fescue pasture to provide sheep access
to fresh forage during the summer months.
“Most of the problems stemmed from excessive grazing by cattle in the past, and feeding
hay over long periods, resulting in excessive weed growth and larger patches where
tall fescue was missing,” Phillip said.
Philipp said five factors tend to contribute to successfully shifting from the forage
needs of one kind of livestock to another, the first being the decision to fertilize
an area in a forage-specific approach.
“There are many practitioners who don’t fertilize tall fescue in spring, but an application
of 60 lbs of nitrogen per acre helped us growing a lush fescue pasture well into the
summer,” he said.
Approaching fertilization this way helps accumulate biomass rapidly, which in turn
helps soil retain moisture, Philipp said. The lush forage canopies also help suppress
It’s also important to select the right paddock size for your livestock.
“Our paddocks are about one acre apiece,” Philipp said. “We stocked them with 40-70
animals — ewes and lambs — for several days. Sheep will graze between fescue plants
on forbs but will quickly graze down the lush fescue plants, as this helps them obtain
necessary water as well.”
A “forb” is a woody, broad-leafed plant.
“It turned out that this size is just right,” he said. “We would keep them on these
one-acre paddocks for just a few days, then rotate them to the next one-acre paddock.”
And of course, you’re going to want to have that trusty bush hog handy.
“Tall fescue puts out seedheads until late spring,” Philipp said. And sheep really
like to graze around them — they leave the seedheads behind while lowering the overall
“To even everything out, we decided to bushhog each grazed paddock once the sheep
moved elsewhere,” he said. “This helps even out the canopy height, encourages regrowth
and clips the remaining non-grazed, stemmy growth.”
Water access and shade are key to any successful livestock venture, and raising sheep
is no different.
“During Arkansas summers, shade is a must, along with plenty of water,” Philipp said.
“Sheep clearly prefer fresh cool water over anything else, so refill the tubs frequently.”
Philipps’ research plot used a moveable, 20x20-foot “pop-up” tent for shade. The tent
had eight feet of clearance, allowing plenty of air movement for the sheep.
Finally, Phillips said, it’s important to keep those animals on the move.
“Moving them frequently helps control internal parasites,” he said. “Sheep graze much
closer to the ground than cattle, so they’re also more likely to ingest any soil-bound
parasite larvae attached to grass blades. Since those larvae concentrate on plant
tissue near the (soil) surface, sheep should be moved frequently, keeping them from
grazing near the soil surface for extended periods.”
As a bonus, tall fescue develops thick, wide crowns if grazed moderately, helping
to keep undesirable plants in check.
“Grazed paddocks should be afforded several weeks of rest to ensure regrowth that
is different across the growing season,” Philipp said. “It will also help interrupt
parasite cycles as much as possible.”
To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension
Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division
of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uark.edu. Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture,
visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex,
gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital
or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and
is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media contact:Ryan McGeeneyCommunications ServicesUniversity of Arkansas System Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) email@example.com