Why Don’t Cattle Like Sheep?

If you have looked at a pasture with cattle and sheep together, you’ve probably seen the cattle ignoring the sheep. That is what happens most of the time.

Occasionally, when sheep and cattle are kept together you may see what looks like the cattle bullying or being overly pushy with the sheep. Why is it that cattle do not like sheep?

brown and white horned cow grazing with sheep

Cattle do not like or dislike sheep, they view sheep as a competitor for resources like food, water and space, even if there is plenty of the resource for all. Cattle treat sheep the same way they treat other cattle.

Cattle like sheep as much they like any other livestock

Cattle do not like or dislike sheep, cattle treat sheep the same way that cattle treat any other livestock or any other members of their own herd, for that matter.

To a bovine, being bigger or more pushy means that you get to be first and get what you want in all aspects of life.

This could be where they stand, who gets the best grass, how much space they get at the feeder, who drinks first at the water trough, etc.

Since sheep are so much smaller than cattle, sheep get pushed out of the way just like cattle would push a smaller bovine out of the way. They are not being mean, they are just being cattle.

Raising Farm Animals Together: What Works And What Doesn’t is an article I wrote to give you a look at what animals work best together and combinations to avoid.

For cattle “might makes right”

For cattle and most other herd or flock animals, might makes right, which means that if you can make it happen then you get to do it. It’s not about being fair or taking turns, it’s about being first!

We think of this as being rude or, at the very least, immature, like something you would think a group of little kids would be doing when their parents weren’t watching! Cattle are more like the little kids.

Cattle are not being mean or behaving badly when they are pushy with other animals, the cattle are just being cattle. To them this type of behavior is normal and to be expected.

two cattle eating hay on ground in pasture with sheep
Here are some of our cattle eating hay and if you look closely you’ll notice the sheep in the picture as well but the sheep are not eating the hay. Why? The cattle are back for more hay, the sheep ate what they wanted earlier and are now looking for grass instead.

Sheep and cattle eat similar things

Sheep and cattle eat similar things, this means that they are competing with each other for who gets to be first and who gets “the best” of whatever forage plants or hay available.

Even if what the cattle would choose to eat first is different from what the sheep would choose to eat first or that there is more than plenty for all of them to eat, it doesn’t matter to the animals.

While it’s easy from our point of view to think of the cattle as being mean to the sheep, they are not.

Both the sheep and the cattle are operating with the same ideas in mind, but in this case the sheep are too small to overpower the cattle so they always lose.

The part that gets left out is that when sheep are competing with other sheep for something, the sheep use “might makes right” as how they decide who gets what, as well.

Think of it this way, if the cattle and the sheep were the same size, they would each have an equal chance of getting to be first. The only reason the cattle normally “win” is simply size.

Sheep Or Cattle: Which One Is More Profitable? is my article that goes over the reasons why you would choose one over the other for your farm.

Cattle will get used to sheep

The cattle will get used to the sheep being around them and start to ignore the flock, if they all have plenty of space and things to eat.

If the food is restricted, expect there to be more bossing by the cattle than before, but as soon as the cattle start to eat they will usually simmer down a bit and stop pushing around the sheep.

Once again, notice that if you give all of them plenty to eat the pushiness of the cattle is reduced.

If you restrict feed, the cattle will be more pushy because they feel that they have to in order to eat the hay (or whatever it is that you are feeding) before the sheep get to it.

The sheep are thinking the same thing, they are just too much smaller than the cattle to push the cattle, but the sheep will definitely be pushing some of the other sheep around!

If you are interested in putting sheep and cattle together in your operation, consider reading:

Sheep And Cattle? The combination really works is a Beef magazine article on adding sheep to herds of range cattle that would also apply to smaller herds and farms.

Multi Species Grazing: Pasture sheep, cattle and goats together to increase profits written by Jesse Duckett is on the American Sheep Industry site and covers predators and parasite challenges.

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