North Dakota rancher Shane Maddock recently added sheep to his operation where they emphasis on holistic management. They relocate their i cry every 12 hours.

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as the livestock cycle continues to churn, beef producers space looking come diversify. Sheep are a great option.

Picture a ranch scene from the 1940s or 50s, and also maybe also the 60s. What images appear? A diversified scene, through some chickens pecking approximately the yard, a milk cow around the barn, maybe a few hogs surrounding and, the course, cattle and sheep in the pastures.

Now snapshot that exact same ranch today. What’s missing?


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Everything except the cattle.

There are several reasons because that that, no the least of i m sorry is the economic push toward expertise in breed cub production. Yet beef producers, considering means to weather the next couple of years of higher cattle numbers and also lower livestock prices, room looking at diversifying their operation with sheep.

That was a common combination a generation or two earlier on many Northern plains ranches, says Dave Ollila, extension sheep field specialist with southern Dakota State University. The baby boomer generation currently running the ranch likely prospered up with a cattle-sheep grazing combination, then obtained out of the sheep organization for assorted reasons. Currently their sons and also daughters are preparing to take over and also grandpa is telling them come get back into sheep, the says.

A quick look in ~ the pros and cons reflects that the once-common exercise is precious considering, notes Kris Ringwall, extension beef specialist v North Dakota State University.

Research in the early 80s in ~ the Dickenson center found sheep diets complemented the grazing of livestock extremely well. The sheep manufacturing cycle, breeding, gestation and also lactation the ewes to compare favorably v the top quality of forage selected seasonally through ewes, the researchers noted.

“The biological needs of lamb fit really well through cattle,” Ringwall says. That’s due to the fact that cows and ewes have tendency to eat different things, Ollila says. Cattle eat the higher grasses while lamb eat forbs and short grasses.

Running the numbers

“Previous work at the Dickinson research Extension facility revealed that for every cow top top the operation, one ewe could be included with no reduction in fall rates. Sheep perform not compete directly with cattle when grazing a mixed-grass and forb forage base. So including sheep uses production advantages. Those benefits help diversify grazing and also grassland management,” Ringwall says.

Assume you’re running 200 cows ~ above 5,000 acres, Ollila says, a relatively common stocking rate for the north Plains. You deserve to graze 200 come 300 ewes ~ above the same selection and boost your cash flow accordingly.

Obviously, market factors will prevail, but Ollila states each ewe can create a benefit of as lot as $100 every head. “That’s the mam going to town and having a work job.”

What’s more, sheep can assist drought-proof her operation. Throughout last year’s dryness in the Dakotas and surrounding states, ranchers running lamb didn’t need to destock. “That’s due to the fact that sheep room a desert animal,” Ollila says. Even throughout a drought, some plants will grow, such together sedges.

“Sedges run about 12% protein,” Ollila says, “and the sheep did well on them last year in the drought. The ewes milked well and the lambs came off in good shape.”

Now the cons

Operations have imposed cattle and sheep grazing and also have been an extremely successful. Also, some have actually tried the implementation that cattle and also sheep on the grasslands and have failed.

It’s possible for the cow herd and the sheep flock come bond come one another and also that’s far and also away the best scenario, largely for predator control. However it’s not simple to achieve. For this reason Ollila recommends running the cows and the ewes as separate enterprises, with the lamb either grazing front or behind the cowherd as pets are rotated through the pastures.

That’s because cows that aren’t bonded through sheep can be pretty unstable on their smaller sized counterparts. Once cattle and also sheep drink together, the sheep have the right to be pushed right into the water tank. For this reason Ollila recommends structure a stair-step v cinder block to allow the sheep to wade come safety.

And when ewes and also lambs run through cows and calves, “the cows will pound the lambs right into the ground,” Ollila says.

Then there space production and also marketing issues.


Shane Maddock, edge M Ranch, Esmond, N.D.

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“To begin, the lamb industry, favor most farming industries, has improved product output. Wool and lamb products are marketed come specifications that have market rewards and an ext work but, one hopes, an ext payback. The very same is true through cattle because calves are marketed to fulfill increasing specifications because that the market,” Ringwall says. The hope is the these specifications will take on market rewards as well as increasing network profit.

But travelling under a an ext diverse agricultural path is every right, Ringwall says. The path is not simple, nor will certainly it be quick, and producers have actually no assurances. Education and learning will help, some capability to withstand growing pains is needed, and also the time and also labor to implement a brand-new enterprise are essential, that adds.

“The Dickinson study Extension center is no different. Adding sheep has actually not to be easy. In fact, the inner stories are quite harrowing – and I am not talking around tilling the ground; the was an ext like pillage and plunder.”

However, the facility still has sheep. What renders sheep so difficult? The center’s ewes average 160 pounds, the cows 1,440. Friend need around nine ewes to same one cow. If a lamb weighs 9 pounds in ~ birth and a calf weighs 81 pounds at birth, ripe lambs same one calf.

“That’s the begin of the problem. The smaller the pet is, the much more care required. Lamb don’t die simpler than cattle, however it method that one should respond quicker to a problem.

“If a coyote or other predator comes along and also the selection is a 9-pound lamb protected by a 160-pound ewe or one 81-pound calf protected by a 1,440-pound cow, which does the coyote choose? The prize is a no-brainer: the lamb, and an ext than likely, the ewe will have two lambs, so the enjoy the meal is easier and also dessert is provided.”

Neither of these worries is insurmountable, simply problematic, Ringwall says. “For sheep to endure within a livestock operation, a paradigm transition is necessary: Producers have to respond quickly to illness and also weather issues. Except for susceptibility to parasites, sheep do not have actually an increased incidence of health issues, but an internal and external parasite routine is needed.”

Fencing also must be considered. “With new electric fence techniques, cattle and sheep have the right to cohabitate there is no predator issues. I am no going to say that action is straightforward or cheap. Current understanding indicates that bonding cattle and also sheep reduce predator loss; plus, the use of guard dog offers good predator control. External inspection cattle and sheep work-related together and help the grasslands,” that says.

Finally, a ewe must wean 80%-plus of she body weight annually, while a cow most most likely will wean a little much more than 40%. Twice the manufacturing requires much better nutritional monitoring throughout pregnancy and lambing, so producers have the right to make no nutritional mistakes.

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“Nevertheless, the opportunity with cattle and also sheep is real,” Ringwall concludes.