Grazing orchardgrass
Grazing orchardgrass

 Sheep grazing in Montana
Sheep grazing in Montana

sheep grazing in New Mexico
Grazing in New Mexico

 Sheep and goats grazing in central Mexico
Grazing in Mexico


    To graze or not to graze

    Benefits of grazing
    Managed or "prescribed" grazing is good for the environment. A grass-covered sod is the best protection against soil erosion and runoff. The vegetation and soils from grazing lands are a large reservoir for organic carbon.

    Properly managed grazing lands help reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and may reduce greenhouse gas accumulation. Private grazing lands provide habitat for two-thirds of our wildlife, water for urban and other users, and visually-appealing open space.

    The Public Domain
    Some people believe that we should not allow sheep or any other livestock to graze our public range and grasslands, due to the damage that was caused by overgrazing in the past. Past overgrazing was caused by lack of management and should not be a reason to ignore the potential benefits of grazing.

    Nowadays, rangelands can be improved with managed or "prescribed" grazing, whereby you control how many, when, and for how long livestock graze a certain area. Research has shown that light or moderate grazing is usually more beneficial than no grazing.

    Grazing fees controversy
    Farmers and ranchers pay a fee to graze their livestock on land that is owned by the federal government. The fee is $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM). An AUM is the amount of forage it takes to feed a cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep and goats for one month.

    Animal unit (AU) equivalents

    Class of animal
    Animal unit equivalent
    1,000 lb. cow, with calf
    Yearling calf
    Mature horse
    Mature sheep
    Mature goat
    Kid goat
    Source: Determining your stocking rate, Utah State University, 2001.

    Some people think that grazing fees are too low, because they are below the cost of leasing private land. But what they fail to realize is that it usually takes more acres of public land to graze livestock.

    Ranchers also incur much higher costs on public than private land because they are responsibile for making improvements to the land, such as building and repairing fences and developing water sources. They also have to share the land with other uses: mining, forestry, wildlife, hunting, and recreation.

    Sheep can graze very close to the ground and like other livestock will overgraze, if they are allowed to. Overgrazing can lead to loss of vegetation and soil erosion. However, it can be prevented with good grazing practices. Wildlife are also "guilty" of overgrazing.

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Last updated 19-Apr-2021
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