5 Best Pasture Crops For Cattle, Goats, And Sheep

It is an established fact that feeding in livestock production takes the lionโ€™s share of the total cost of production. Feeding ruminant animals, cattle, goats, and sheep, does not really comply with this fact. Because ruminant animals can thrive well on pasture crops greatly reduce their cost of feeding. The secret behind the profitability of rearing cattle, goats, and sheep is feeding with cheap and nutritious pasture crops.

You would keenly agree with me that ruminant animals are very easy to rear; but most farmers do not know how and what to feed cattle, goats, and sheep to make them productive at a low cost. It stuns me a lot anytime I see a herdsman buying concentrate feed for cattle, goats, or sheep; if you have been doing that, you are doing your enterprise more bad than good.

You can feed your ruminant animals cheaply and still earn huge at the end of production; it only depends on your knowledge about how and what ruminant animals love to eat and how the feeds are utilized in their system for better conversion. These are what I would explain in this article.

What Do Cattle, Goats, And Sheep Love To Eat?

Ruminant animals thrive best on pasture crops; this is why livestock husbandry is very profitable. Feeding cattle, goats, and sheep, concentrate feed is more or less like a waste of resources because concentrate feeds do more harm than good. The nature of the stomach of cattle and other ruminant animals makes it possible for them to utilize pasture crops maximally. Cattle, goats, and sheep love to eat roughage; it makes their gut healthy.

Best Pasture Crops To Feed Cattle, Goats, And Sheep

A pasture is a community of crops meant for the feeding of ruminant animals. In a pasture, there are different combinations of crops. Since the aim of the pasture is to provide feed for the ruminant animals, you are at liberty to select and plant any of the pasture crops of your choice. Pasture crops are basically two, grasses and legumes. I would discuss and recommend some grasses and legumes that have high nutritive value to increase the growth and performance of cattle, goats, and sheep.

The grasses are:

  • Napier grass or elephant grass
  • Brachiaria
  • Tall Fescue

The legumes are:

  • Alfalfa
  • Stylo

Nutritional Value Of Napier Grass

napier grass

Napier grass, also known as elephant grass is botanically called Pennisetum purpureum; it is a good pasture crop with high nutritive value. Fresh elephant grass, having a dry matter content of 21.4 percent, contains a crude protein content of 3.4 – 12.9 percent, depending on the age of this grass and a total digestible nutrient of 14 percent; the nutrient content of this grass deteriorates as the grass grows older. Elephant grass at about 30cm high is ideal and nutritious enough to feed livestock animals.

Nutritional Value Of Brachiaria

Brachiaria is a highly nutritious fast-growing pasture crop. There are four varieties of Brachiaria grass, namely:

  • Brachiaria brizanta, commonly called Palisade grass
  • Brachiaria decumbens
  • Brachiaria mutica also called the Para grass
  • Brachiaria ruziziensis also called the Kennedy or Ruzi grass

They are tolerant to drought, recover fast after grazing, and are very palatable to livestock. The crude protein content of Brachiaria grass ranges between 5 – 16 percent dry matter with 66% Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) and Mineral content of about 7-13% Dry matter.

Brachiaria grass

Of all the Brachiaria species, Brachiaria brizanta, commonly called Palisade grass is the most nutritious. Brachiaria grass species are of high importance in dairy production; they also have the potential to improve livestock live weight gain.

Nutritional value of Tall Fescue

tall fescue grass

Tall fescue is another forage crop of high nutritional importance. Like the aforementioned pasture crops, fescue grass is highly adaptive to a wide range of soil and environmental conditions.  The nutrient composition of fescue grass is relatively high; it contains crude protein of 67-283g/kg Dry matter, 308-715g/kg dry matter of Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), and a good mineral content profile.

Nutritional Value Of Alfalfa

alfalfa legume

Alfalfa, botanically called Medicago sativa is one of the most important leguminous forage in the world. It is a leaf protein with a well-balanced amino acid profile; alfalfa is one of the major sources of protein for livestock, including poultry birds in a free-range system or organic poultry farming. It is commonly used as a protein source, especially for lactating livestock, like cows, ewe,s or doe.

Alfalfa contains 18 โ€“ 25 percent crude protein dry matter, a crude fiber content of 20 โ€“ 25 percent dry matter, and high vitamin and mineral profile. One of the distinctive features of alfalfa is the high level of beta-carotene; this compound has beneficial effects on the reproductive performance of dairy cows, such as the increase in calf weight at birth and milk yield.

Nutritional Value Of Stylo


Stylo, botanically called Stylosanthes guianensis is another highly nutritious leguminous forage crop for ruminant animals; it has a moderate protein content that varies with the level of the dry matter. Stylo has a crude protein content of 14 percent dry matter and crude fiber of 25 percent dry matter.


Stylo can be used as a plant protein source for most livestock, including poultry, rabbit, and pigs. The palatability of stylo increases as the plant matures. Like alfalfa, stylo can be used as a protein supplement for most livestock.

FAQS On Using Forage Crops As Livestock Feeds

Would these pasture crops meet their nutritional requirement?

Of course yes. Ruminant animals like cattle, goats, and sheep can synthesize enough protein, vitamins, and minerals needed for their body development through the actions of the microorganisms in the rumen, the largest of the four stomach compartments of ruminant animals.

When Is The Best Time To Allow Cattle, Goats, And Sheep Graze On Pasture?

The best time to allow cattle, goats, and sheep to graze on pasture is after sunrise. Why?

Firstly, if you allow your animals to graze early in the morning, you are taking a huge risk because most times parasites such as worms or their eggs are always at the back of the pasture crops. Unknowingly, your animals may eat these parasites along with the pasture crops; this may result in infections that, if not properly managed, could lead to the loss of the animals.

Secondly, the moisture content of pasture crops is always very high during the early hours of the day. If your animals graze very early in the morning, they may likely develop bloat or diarrhea. Hours around 10 am are better for grazing.

The best method of grazing livestock is the cut-and-carry method. Here, the animals are not allowed to graze instead the pasture crops are harvested, cured, and fed to the animals. This method allows maximum utilization and accessibility of the nutrients in the feed; also, the risk of parasite ingestion is highly minimized.

Does Cattle, Goats, And Sheep Love Wet Pasture Crops?

I would say NO because of the high moisture content of wet forages. Of course, if you serve them, they would eat it but it is detrimental to their well-being as they may develop bloat or diarrhea.

Nutritionally, wet grasses or legumes are not advisable because what cattle, goats, and sheep need is the dry matter in the forage crops. The dry matter is also known as roughages, it aids the better functioning of their digestive system.

Generally, the combination of these forage crops in a pasture makes the pasture very productive and rich nutritionally. You do not need to formulate any sophisticated diet to feed your cattle, goat, or sheep nutritious feed; these forage crops in your pasture answer all questions regarding the nutritional needs of your flock.

It is very important to note that the nutritional composition of these forage crops can be greatly influenced by fertilizer application in your pasture. The level of fertility of the pasture has a direct influence on the nutrient composition of the forage crops, hence, it is highly advisable to apply fertilizers to the pasture for better yield.

To cap it all on the nutritional benefits of these pasture crops; the nutrient composition of these crops varies with their level of maturity. Young pasture crops have high nutrient contents than matured forage crops, hence, it is recommended to harvest or graze animals on pasture at an interval of 6 weeks to enable the animals to get the best out of the pasture always.

Farm smartly!

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8 thoughts on “5 Best Pasture Crops For Cattle, Goats, And Sheep”

  1. This is a beautiful write-up. Please how do I get seeds of Brachiara, Stylo & Alfalfa. In I’m planning to go into commercial Animal husbandry. This crops will assist me.
    Please give price where necessary.
    Arowojolu Olusegun.

  2. Nice article , highly beneficial. thump up for u. please, add me to your whatsapp group, my number is 08058158021

  3. Great article – where can I purchase these grasses and legume seeds? …or do they come as a mixture?
    I am preparing my pastures for a Jersey Cow, calf with free-range chickens.
    Thank you – M

  4. Thank you for sharing this useful information! Now it remains to find seeds in local stores, which is still a challenge. In remote towns, this is a real problem ๐Ÿ™


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