The Benefits of Co-grazing Goats and Cattle
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Co-grazing goats and cattle means maximizing space, weight gain for animals, and also improved land health.
by Dorothy Rieke My husband and I were sitting on our west porch early one evening when a dusty pickup roared up the driveway. We immediately recognized it as neighbor Jim’s vehicle. Stopping the black pickup, Jim jumped out and walked quickly to our porch.
My husband asked, “What’s going on?” Jim grinned and explained, “You will think I have lost my mind! I bought some goats!”
I have to admit, he took us by surprise. Jim already had beautiful Angus cattle. Everyone admired those cows. But goats? I could not believe it!
He asked, “Well, will goats work with my Angus?”
We knew that Jim was cutting down and planning to retire. He had already sold most of his Angus because the pasture he rented had sold. He had cut his herd to about a dozen cattle from over 40.
I told him, “Sit down; let’s talk about cows and goats.”
Under the right circumstances, goats and cows can complement each other on farms and ranches. I explained this in detail to Jim.
Yes, goats and cows can live together; they can be companions in keeping the soil in good condition and maintaining profitability. This combination not only maximizes space, but it uses pastureland more efficiently. Co-grazing these animals means a weight gain for animals, but also improved land health.
Naturally, these animals are different in many ways. For example, dairy goats are one-sixth the size of a cow, and have a longer productive life. Most goats live from eight to ten years; cows live from four to six years.
Being smaller, goats take less room than larger cows. They can inhabit smaller facilities and graze on smaller pastures.
Reportedly, it is more difficult to plan a year’s milk supply because goats breed only during the fall and winter months.
Goats require less investment than cattle. However, those dairy goats with good bloodlines can be quite expensive.
There are a number of factors to consider in the ownership and co-grazing of goats and cows. Differing in size, cows and goats require different feed amounts. Another important consideration is that working with both kinds of animals means introducing the two kinds of animals. Then, too, the producer must be versed in both cattle and goat needs. What kinds of food they prefer, how they adjust to climates, what facilities are needed, and how much space is needed. In fact, everything from feeding to parasites and safety must be understood and evaluated. Farmers must do everything to keep both goats and cattle safe and healthy.
Indeed, there are many benefits for co-grazing cattle and goats. Consider two cows per acre and three to four goats per acre if grazing together. As always, the number of animals depends on the amount of pasture vegetation. Keep in mind that younger animals adjust easier. Putting adult animals together should be a slow process. One suggestion is to introduce the cows and goats slowly to accept each other. Placing the herds in adjoining pasture areas can help them become aware of each other before turning the goats in with the cattle. Then, after several weeks, allow them to intermingle in a barnyard or smaller pasture. Be sure to watch, at first, for any problems.
Cows’ and goats’ diets differ though both are ruminants. They eat some of the same legumes, but in general, the two species choose their own foods. Goats eat forage or weeds such as ironweed, brush, and multiflora roses that cows will not touch, so adding goats does not decrease the number of cows grazing per acre. This creates a more balanced pasture overall, preventing the land from becoming too heavy with several species.
Pasture rotation works very well for co-grazing. This way of managing pasture areas brings cattle and goats together to maintain a healthy, safe environment. Rotating the pasture areas every two or three weeks balances the nitrogen and reduces parasites.
Cattle indeed take more space when sheltering them. For example, allow 20 to 30 square feet for each cow and 10 square feet per goat. Goats should never be crowded as they are very active and require more individual space. Goats definitely need shelter during rains, sleet, or snow. If they become wet, they can develop health problems.
Fencing can be a problem with goats as they are known to enjoy climbing or jumping over them. Goats do require more fencing than cows. Be sure the pasture fencing is right for both cattle and goats.
There is a safety factor here to be considered. Cows can weigh from 1210 to 1390 pounds, and bulls weigh from 1870 pounds for an Angus bull to 2530 pounds for a Limousin bull. Depending on the breed, adult goats weigh around 44.1 to 308.6 pounds. Goats are one-sixth the size of cattle, so take care to avoid confrontations between the two. If both have friendly temperaments, they will get along fine and may become friends. However, if overcrowded or in competition, some cattle and even some goats can injure each other. Horns make a difference in this case. A horned, angry animal is one to avoid at all costs. There are ways to avoid confrontations between the animals. Providing adequate feed and water reduces competition.
Predators are another problem, especially for goats. Coyotes, wolves, or even packs of dogs can be dangerous to goats. Though, good fencing helps keep out these animals. Also, a guardian animal can help protect the goats.
Putting animals together always bring some concerns for the health and welfare of the animals involved. One big benefit of co-grazing goats and cattle together is that they do not share parasite problems. Actually, as unbelievable as it may seem, co-grazing eliminates the parasites’ life cycles, reducing worm load for both. In fact, each consumes the others’ parasites, and when returned to the same pasture, available infective larvae have been reduced. Both cattle and goats gain from this practice.
The bad news is that co-grazing these animals can cause major infections in both herds. Diseases that are infectious are Johne’s disease, a bacterial infection, and blue-tongue disease, carried by insects. Keen observation is needed to determine problems of this sort.
Today, there are many producers interested in adding goats to existing cattle farms. Goat meat production is a good prospect for diversification and to enhance a farmer’s income. Cattle are grazers consuming all the grass in an area; goats are the browsers selectively nibbling on leaves, twigs, and young shoots of trees or shrubs. The two species together should consume everything, bringing about great utilization of pastureland forage.
One producer I spoke with stated that they discovered that cattle perform somewhat differently depending on how they are raised with goats. If the goats graze first and then cattle graze, cattle are doing “clean up duty.” At the end of the grazing season, cattle that followed goats weighed on an average thirty pounds less than cattle that were grazing with goats all the time. On the other hand, the goats thrive where they graze either before or with the cattle.
Cattle and goats grazing together has many advantages. This practice increases productivity per acre of land grazed by cattle, decreases gastrointestinal parasite worm load, results in more meat produced per acre, less money spent on weed control, produces healthier livestock, has greater plant utilization, and more nutritious meat is produced. Goats and cattle can be “pasture pals” with very good results.
Originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.