The Grass-Legume Mix
Goats have a shorter digestive tract than other ruminants and are less able to digest cell wall material. Hay and other dry forage will not long sustain a goat, which requires significant inputs of carbohydrates and protein. For sustainable pastures, sod grasses need to be mixed with legumes to ensure nitrogen fixation in the soil and prevent erosion. Goats will eat the grasses first but not take them up by the roots; so when grasses are eaten short, the goats will turn to the legumes. Orchard grass and bluegrass are a good combination, in conjunction with red clover or hairy vetch as legumes.
Feeding cattle on grass is a natural choice for the foraging animal. The rancher can avoid feeding additives and growth hormones by focusing on simple grass forage choices. Cattle, ruminant feeders, benefit from feeding on fibrous grasses. The grass varieties are low fiber and less starchy than feedlot food choices, which helps the animals suffer fewer digestive problems.
Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) offers an excellent feeding choice for fall and winter grazing. A vigorous perennial, the grass grows as a bunch grass. It forms a deep sod with a deep and fibrous root system. The grass grows best in a soil pH is 5.8 to 6.5. It tolerates moderate flooding and a wet root system. Once established, the plant is drought tolerant. The grass grows approximately 48 inches in height or more.
Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) grows well in mild, temperate climates. A popular forage choice for both cattle and sheep, it recovers promptly after close grazing. When grown as a forage it is mixed heavily with red clover. The grass offers a high yield potential with fast establishment. It can flourish in overly wet soil conditions and will tolerate up to 25 days of flooding. Ryegrass flourishes in cool, moist areas with fertile soil and requires a minimum of 18 to 25 inches of rain or irrigation per year. A soil pH of 5.1 to 8.4 is tolerated but the ideal growth occurs with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5.
The grass grows up to 12 inches in height. It offers high digestibility for cattle forage.
SHEEP AND CATTLE
There have been two Australian experiments examining complementary grazing of sheep and cattle which are worth discussing in this feed.
At Rutherglen Victoria, on annual pastures, the wool production and lamb growth from autumn-lambing flocks were improved by about 12% when sheep were grazed with cattle at comparable grazing pressure, instead of separately. This was achieved without any reduction of the growth of the cattle. When green pasture was scarce over the late autumn and winter, it was noted that the sheep grazed pasture around the cattle dung pats, whereas this was left untouched in the ‘cattle only’ paddocks. When the pasture was dry the cattle ate more of the coarser parts, such as grass stems. The sheep ate more of the finer parts such as shed clover leaf; in addition, they sometimes ate substantial amounts of clover burr, which was virtually untouched by cattle.
On perennial pastures at Canberra, mixed grazing led to increased productivity from spring-lambing ewes without any substantial effect on cattle production. There was an increase of 13% in the number of lambs weaned, weaning weights increased by 17% and the ewes cut 12% more wool.
In the Rutherglen situation the most profitable stocking rate for sheep alone was 8 1/2 ewes per hectare. The most profitable stocking rate for cattle alone was about the equivalent of 5 1/2 ewes per hectare. In this case it turned out to be more profitable to ignore the opportunity for better pasture utilization for mixed grazing at the same grazing pressure for the sheep and the cattle, and instead graze the sheep and cattle separately, each at their own most profitable stocking rate.
This is not true in all situations, however. At Canberra, where different types of sheep and cattle were used under different methods of animal management and with different pattern of pasture growth, there was no marked difference in stocking requirements of the sheep and cattle, and hence no such problems in grazing them together.
Some of the most important worm species do not transmit readily between sheep and cattle; therefore, sheep and cattle can complement each other in worm control, especially in the case of the troublesome Ostertagia species.
It appears that there may be complementary effects of grazing goats with sheep and cattle on temperate pastures. In particular there appears to be a “goat effect” in increasing clover content of growing pastures. However we have yet to determine the optimum stocking rate for goats and we have much to learn about the best ways of controlling internal parasites in goats. In situations where animals compete for winter feed there is unlikely to be great gains from complementary grazing. If the overseas situation is repeated in Australia (on pastures) then the replacement of a 1/4 or 1/3 stock numbers by goats might lead to some gains. Experiments in progress are examining many of these aspects.
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