Multi-species grazing can be very beneficial for the health of the pasture and health of the animals, since the various animals eat different plants and have different internal parasites. Bob Coleman, PhD, State Extension Specialist at the University of Kentucky, said that if you have an opportunity to use cattle or sheep on horse pastures, they will eat some of the forages and weeds the horses won’t eat.
“Cattle may eat some of the same grasses, but may not mind if it’s a little more mature,” said Coleman. “Cattle also harvest it at a different level, not grazing as closely as horses.
Having cows or sheep on the pasture for a while will also reduce the parasite loads for all species, since the horse parasites can’t complete their life cycle in the other livestock and vice versa. They also tend to eat the grasses that grow next to the other animals’ manure and clean up some areas that are generally avoided.
“You might not be able to run cattle (or sheep) and horses together, but you can rotate them sequentially through the paddocks,” said Coleman. “If you have temporary fencing, you just have to make sure that it is adequate to contain the other animals.”
A single strand of electric fence that’s set at a height for containing horses might not be low enough to keep sheep or calves from going under it, for instance. But most animals don’t like to be shocked and will respect an electric fence once they learn about it.
Some people graze the cattle or sheep with the horses, but if you are not comfortable with having them all together, you can have the other livestock follow the horses through the paddock system to clean up some of the forage the horses don’t eat. You might want a few cattle or sheep of your own, or you can let a neighbor pasture his cattle or sheep on your paddock or field for part of the summer.
Sometimes neighbors can make a trade. “You might let your neighbor have a spot where he can run his sheep for a short period of time while he is doing some pasture management at home, and another neighbor might take of some of your manure or compost for their fields or garden,” said Coleman.