Forage management for sheep and goat production

Efficient forage use is essential to the profitability of all farms regardless of size.

Small ruminants are ideally suited to utilize pastures. The pasture resource is often the most neglected part of the sheep and goat enterprises, yet it usually provides the majority of nutrients to the stock. Well-managed pastures that are properly grazed have the potential to minimize feed costs and increase profits.

Pasture is the most natural diet for ruminant animals. Though pasture is not without its own risks, fewer digestive problems are usually encountered among grazing animals. Improving forage use through grazing as well as efficient machine harvest for winter feed are important for overall profitability.

A pasture can be comprised of many different kinds of plants. Which species to plant depends upon the purpose of the pasture and the soil type. The best pastures usually contain a mixture of grasses and legumes. Selecting one or more grass and legume species is usually preferable to commercial pasture mixes which may contain plant species which are not adapted.

Planning for a successful pasture establishment or renovation should begin months in advance. Soil fertility and timing of planting are all important items to consider.

To learn more about efficient forage production, Michigan State University Extension is offering a Forage Management School for Sheep and Goat Production on June 24th and 25th at the MSU Pavilion. An optional third day of tours of sheep and goat farms in southern Michigan will also be available.

Specific topics to be covered include:

  • Forage Budgeting
  • Soil/land improvement
  • Pasture improvement and establishment guidelines
  • Grazing management
  • Complimentary forages
  • Grazing infrastructure
  • Forage harvest and feeding systems
  • Health management of grazing animals

Registration for this event can be made online at:

For more information contact Mike Metzger at, or Dr. Richard Ehrhardt at

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