What Is The Best Animal To Eat Extra Grass?

sheep grazing pasture in Ohio in July

Is your yard growing a little too well? Now you’ve got plenty of extra grass that needs to be eaten down!

What animal will be best suited to eat that grass and leave your place looking good when they are done?

Sheep are the best farm animal to eat your extra grass. If you have more space, cattle will also do well eating grass, but for smaller areas, sheep are the best choice to eat and grow well on grass.

Sheep are by far the best animal to use to eat your extra grass!

Here is my list of the reasons why you should get a few sheep or lambs to do your mowing for you!

Grows well on grass onlyYesNoYesNo
Easy to fenceYesNoYesYes
Messy manureNoNoYesNo
Low sq. ft. needed per animalYesNoNoNo
Short term/summer project
(feeder size to market size)
Easy to waterYesYesNoNo
Backyard friendlyYesYesNoYes
Comparison of the animals commonly suggested for eating extra grass.

Sheep are grazers (goats are not!)

It sounds absurd to point out that sheep eat grass, that’s the reason for the article! So true. Let me explain why this distinction is important.

Sheep Or Goats: Which One Should You Raise? walks you through deciding between sheep and goats for your farm.

In livestock, there are two groups of forage eaters, broadly speaking:

  1. The Grazers-these are the animals that eat mainly grass. Examples of grazers would be sheep and cattle.
  2. The Browsers-these are the animals that eat mainly browse (briars and shrubs) and forbs (livestock edible plants that are not grass). Examples of browsers would be goats and deer.

While members of either group will snack on or taste test all types of forages, the grazers will mainly eat grass and the browsers will mainly eat forbs and browse.

Since you have grass in that you want eaten down, you need an animal that will happily eat it! That means you need a grazer like sheep or cattle.

The reason I’m “going on about” this grazing versus browsing preference is because other articles answering this question mention goats as their top choice for grass eating. Yikes! Goats eat browse (like deer), not grass!

Goats are not a good choice for grass eating, they don’t eat much grass! Goats like shrubs and briars, not grass.

If you had a wooded lot that you wanted cleared out, goats would be the ticket! Since you need your extra grass to be eaten down, get sheep!

Note: geese would also be good grass eaters, but will not be able to keep up with your grass unless the yard is small.

Cheviot ewes grazing in Scotland, The Sheep Game (YouTube)
Cheviot mule ewes grazing in Scotland. Image from The Sheep Game (YouTube)

Sheep thrive on grass only diets

Sheep grow well on grass alone. They do not need grain or hay supplementation, if you have plentiful grass.

Of course, they need water and a salt block, as well! But as far as feed, grass is perfect for sheep.

We raise our ewe flock and the lambs (up through weaning) on grass alone. They don’t need anything else.

As long as the weather cooperates and gives us decent rain, we can give the sheep everything they need through the summer from only the pasture.

If you are short on grass, sheep will gladly eat hay, instead. As long as the grass is available, they will be just fine eating it.

Once again, geese can do just fine on grass alone. Chickens or ducks would enjoy eating some of the grass, but will need to have plenty of feed, as well.

Sheep 101: What Sheep Eat goes over the forages that sheep love to eat. This is a great site, click around on it and read other articles, there’s some good stuff here!

Sheep are not destructive to property

What I’m trying to point out here is that some other animals can be pretty hard on your yard, I’m thinking specifically of cattle and pigs!

Pigs will root up your yard/pasture

Pigs root, it’s what they are made for! It will also make them the masters of taking your nice yard or tidy pasture and rearranging it a bit for you.

I’ve got three feeder pigs on pasture right now. Even though they are small, they are still excavating up a storm!

Berkshire feeder pig on pasture
One of my three backyard pigs. They can really root!

As far as pigs go, some breeds with really short noses root less than others, but they all readily root. Good for getting bugs out of your soil, bad for keeping a nice looking yard.

Cattle love to rub on/against objects

The other grass eating option commonly mentioned is cattle.

True, they are grazers (unlike goats) and do a great job of eating grass, but they can be pretty pushy. For instance, they love to rub on posts and non electric fences!

Sheep vs Cattle goes over the best and the not so good that we have noticed from raising both.

After sheep grazing, your yard will look good

If you are careful to rotate your sheep through the grass, when they leave it will look great, just like you mechanically mowed it!

Sheep 101: Products From Sheep shows all the ways you can use sheep, including vegetation control!

Here is the second growth of one of the fields we mowed for hay. We can graze this, make it for hay again or let it grow for fall grazing.

Sheep are backyard friendly

If you have a small amount of acreage that you want eaten down, sheep are again the best choice.

Backyard Sheep gives you more details on keeping sheep in your yard, it’s definitely doable!

You can keep just a few sheep together and move them through a set of mini pastures to graze down your backyard.

As long as you have a few sheep, (not just one, sheep don’t like to be alone) they will do great.

We live in Ohio, the rest of the math will be using what we can expect from grass growing here.

We move our big group of ewes every other day through our pasture in 164 ft. x 164 ft. blocks using electric netting. While that is a big space, it’s also for nearly 200 adults plus lambs, that’s a lot of eaters!

Amount of square footage of grass per sheep

Here’s the math 164 ft x 164 ft is 26,896 sq. ft for 200 ewes for two days. Divide 26,896 by 2 to get 13,448 per day for the group. Divide 13,448 by 200 and get 67.24 sq. ft per adult sheep per day.

Remember, lambs are with their moms here and we just did the math for the moms.

Now, we’ll make this example backyard sized!

So to make this an applicable example for your backyard, let’s say that you can graze 4 lambs on the same grass per day as one of our ewes with her lambs.

I’m giving a guess based on body weight, comparing a ewe and her babies to your feeder lambs.

If you purchased 4 cattle panels and put your lambs in that area, you would have 16 x 16 =256 sq. ft. This is enough for four of our lambs to eat for over 3 days (3.8 days, actually)!

When they eat the grass to the level you are comfortable with, you drag the panels to the next section of yard, easy!

If you are really on your game, you’ll get 7 panels. Four for the pen they are in and 3 to make the next move, no more dragging!

Sheep manure isn’t messy

If you don’t go out into your yard or pasture much, poo piles waiting for you to step in them isn’t a big deal. A cow pie or two won’t matter.

If you want to use your yard as a yard, sheep poo is definitely a much more family friendly option!

Once the grass is grazed down, it will grow back in a few weeks and look super whether sheep or cattle did the grazing.

The difference will be in the damage done to your grass in the areas where the animals stand around and the “presents” left on the ground for you.

Let me be clear, sheep produce manure like all other eaters. The difference is the sheep poo is small little pellets, like the size of peas, that will dissolve into your grass quite quickly.

Cattle manure will be used by your grass as well, it will just take longer for the microbes to get all of it.

ewes on pasture looking off to the side
Ewes on pasture in Scotland, image from The Sheep Game (YouTube)

Sheep need less water than bigger animals

Sheep will need plenty of fresh, clean water to drink if they choose. I say if because you’ll be surprised at how little water sheep need compared to other animals.

Sheep seem to be able to get more of their daily water needs from the grass than most other forage eaters. Notice, I said they still need to have water!

This is less work for you filling the water trough. They still need the trough but keeping it full will be easier, especially in the heat.

Lambs can be a summer only project

If you are interested in having a few grass eaters for the summer, but not overwintering, sheep are the ticket!

Get a few feeder lambs and grow them out on your extra grass for the summer and into the fall. (Look at the section above Sheep are backyard friendly for the grass math.)

Now you have premium 100% grass fed lamb for your freezer! All in just a few months over the summer, eating grass you didn’t want to mow, anyway!

If you aren’t super excited about this, look up the prices for grass fed lamb.

Once you see what other people are charging (and getting) for their grass fed lamb, you’ll look at raising a few lambs for the summer as a big opportunity to get a premium meat from your yard!

Sheep are quiet

I’m sure you are thinking that sheep can and do talk to each other, so true! Overall, sheep are very quiet animals to have around.

Sheep Keeping For Beginners gives you the basics of shepherding from our experience.

Usually, sheep are so quiet you have to see them to know that we have them here!

There are two exceptions here: bottle babies (or former bottle babies) and ewes with lambs.

Bottle babies love to see you come over to their pen! They will cry when they see you, even if you are just walking across the yard within their sight line.

Sadly, it’s not really you they are wanting, they cry since they are hoping for an extra snack!

The second age group of sheep that can and will make some noise are ewes with lambs. When this group needs to move they do quite a bit of calling back and forth as the flock walks along.

They are not tremendously loud, but it is noticeable.

Sheep are easy to handle

Compared to cattle, sheep are very easy to handle. Most adults will be able to control a full grown sheep.

Sheep are also easy to transport. Lambs can be transported to your farm or yard in a large sized dog kennel.

We see people do this all of the time at the livestock auctions. Sheep raisers with just a few sheep will have the lambs they are selling in the back of a pickup truck or SUV.

The other ease of handling that you will appreciate is that sheep are small. They will be likely to be comfortable in part of a building or a smaller shed that you already have.

They are also small enough that building them a temporary shelter is pretty easy, think hoop up a cattle panel and and grab a tarp!

6 Easy Sheep Breeds is a starter list of breeds that are generally easy to work with for new sheep owners.

Sheep do not need a building if they can get shade and shelter from the weather.

Even if you do not plan to have your animals inside a barn much, when you need to gather them up.

Good news, sheep are easy to gather up and do not require specialized equipment.

We use cattle panels and T posts for our gathering corrals for the sheep. These panels and T posts are especially nice, since they are completely portable.

Easy to reposition anytime. You can easily find these at a lumber or gardening supply store.

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