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Flerds: Sheep and Cattle Grazing Together for Predator Protection and Pasture Management

By   /  June 21, 2021  /  6 Comments

Multi-species grazing isn’t just about diversifying your operation and making good use of your pastures. It can also be a way to protect small ruminants from predation!

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Here’s some research that has not gotten nearly enough visibility by the people who need it mo
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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

6 Comments

  1. Clint Thompson says:

    Hello Kathy, A few years ago I went to a Holistic Management meeting in Russel Manitoba. There was a guy there named Larsen who lives in Rolo Saskatchewan that has been doing this for a few years. He gave a very interesting presentation on cattle bonded sheep and based on our issues with closed borders due to BSE was trying to see just how few cows he could accomplish this with. I am not very interested in sheep but his holistic awareness on the how and why things were working since his change to this method made the presentation the most memorable. His original reason to attempt this was for predation protection but the many side benefits and observations he realized along the way were very interesting. Thanks for what you are doing here. Clint.

  2. Paul Nehring says:

    I have to wonder if you could accomplish the same thing just using good stockmanship skills, which emphasize teaching groups of livestock how to behave as a herd. It would save so much time and expense, and improve the management of any group of livestock.

    • Kathy Voth says:

      Interesting thought. Do you think the training via stockmanship would take less than 14 days of confinement? I liked the idea of training just a few and then relying on animal behavior (flocking and learning from Mom) to create a flerd in just a couple weeks. But there are always a variety of solutions to the same problem.

  3. Kristin says:

    I do this on a small scale with my milk cows, heifers, steers & sheep. I run mostly hair sheep which are not a susceptible to copper toxicity as wool breeds. I also cull my sheep heavily based on their ability to do well in my conditions. I have pastures & land similar to what Bill Fosher describes and do keep them all in sheep netting, which may be more applicable to a lot of the readers here. The herd is moved daily. The combined herd grazed better than they do separately so I have more effective grazing available to them when they are together.

  4. Bill Fosher says:

    Kathy, I have to raise some issues with this. While I think that running sheep and cattle together has a lot of promise, there are some real challenges that will become apparent very quickly outside of a range environment.

    First off, running sheep without sheep proof fences will really only work in places where there’s no reason at all for the sheep to leave the paddock with the cattle: the feed’s not better, there’s no shade, there’s no slightly higher knoll where they might catch a breeze or have a better view of their surroundings, etc. Basically, where you’ve run a fence down the middle of the prairie or desert and it’s pretty much the same as far as the eye can see: places where the sheep could be grazed with herders rather than fence.

    If we did this in New England, with our small fields and closely-packed residential environment, there would be sheep in the neighbors’ yards every day, and the flerd would quickly become a nuisance and would be shut down.

    The second issue that presents itself when running sheep and cattle together is one of mineral supplementation. The levels of copper that cattle require are toxic to sheep. I have yet to see a system that deals with that issue. Most simply ignore it, and either use salt blocks that are intended for cattle (the hard composition of these blocks limits the intake of the sheep) or they use something like kelp or Redmon salt that doesn’t really have enough of any mineral to correct any imbalances, but is also not likely to cause toxicity. Both these approaches mean that sheep will not get adequate mineralization or will get too much copper.

    For those not familiar with copper toxicity in sheep, it causes basically no detectible symptoms as the copper builds in the liver. A stress event such as a sudden change in weather or a predator attack can cause the liver to release copper, leading to sudden death. And once the process starts, it’s irreversible.

    On the other hand, sheep require a great deal more selenium than do cattle. I am not sure whether the amounts of Se that sheep need would be harmful to cattle, but it is a very expensive mineral to supplement and I would not want a herd of cattle sucking down sheep mineral just to get the salt.

    Copper wouldn’t be an issue with goats and cattle running together, as both species have similar copper requirements and tolerances, but I think the same questions about selenium would remain.

    • Kathy Voth says:

      I agree with you, Bill. This isn’t a solution for everyone and we appreciate you pointing out mineral supplementation issues that folks should be cautious of.

      “What about Flerds?” is a question I’ve gotten quite often from my western neighbors and from folks at conferences in the west, so I thought I’d help them out with this interesting research that responds to their needs.

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