Your choice of livestock will depend on what breed of animal is most likely to achieve your biodiversity objectives or cultural heritage objectives . Your choice may be influenced by what livestock are available to you.

Different species and breeds of animal have different behaviours and impacts. The links and tables below contain background information on selecting the most appropriate species and breed for achieving your objectives:

Species and breed differences

Table 1: Cattle Breed differences

(summarised from the Grazing Animals Project Breed Profiles Handbook - anecdotal evidence)


Breed examples

GAP say

Foraging information

Upland beef

Highland, Luing, Galloway, Welsh Black, Beef Shorthorn, Vaynol

Hardy, thrifty. Small-medium size. Slow growing, late maturing.

Wide range of browsing impacts. 

Lowland beef

Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Sussex, South Devon, Lincoln Red, Limousan, Charolais

Moderately hardy & thrifty. UK breeds medium size & weight, continentals large size & weight

UK: some browsing.

Continentals: no noticeable browsing impact


Holstein, Ayrshire, Jersey, Guernsey, Kerry

Some breeds hardy. Can graze coarse vegetation when not lactating. Range of sizes.

Not much browsing except for Kerry

Dual purpose

Red Poll, Shetland, Dexter

Generally hardy & thrifty. Small – medium size and weight.

Considerable browsing

Notes on table 1:

  • Permission granted to use this information by Sophie Lake 12/02/08
  • Though the Breed Profiles Handbook approaches breed selection from the perspective of maintaining open ground rather than that of managing woodland, it contains information on the grazing and browsing characteristics of all main breeds of cattle that could be invaluable for matching breed to woodland management objectives.

Table 2: Comments by experts on different types of cattle

Within species comparisons



Cattle breeds: Hardy versus continental

Cattle breeds with lighter adult body weight (i.e. hardy natives) have lower nutritional requirements, are more nimble, and are less likely to get stuck in boggy ground.

Niall Campbell, SAC advisor, Oban.

Cattle breeds: Hardy versus continental

Native breeds may well be likely to be more able to cope with rough upland environments than continentals. However, no evidence to suggest that native/rare breeds are better, in terms of their biodiversity impact, than continentals.

Commitment under Rio convention to protect under-represented breeds of livestock.

Tony Waterhouse, SAC. Team leader, Hill and Mountain Research Centre.

Cattle breeds: Hardy versus continental

Hardy breeds tend to explore and browse trees and shrubs more than continentals. So if woodland regeneration is wanted, continentals may have less impact on the trees.

Lucy Sumsion, FWAG

N.B. Observations from some woodland grazing pilot projects suggest that Highland cattle can be quite destructive of tree regeneration if stocking densities are not very low.  


Table 3: Sheep breed differences

(from the GAP Breed Profiles handbook. Anecdotal evidence)


Breed examples

GAP say

Foraging information


Soay, Hebridean, Shetland

Very hardy in all extremes of weather. Small in size, able to do well on poor quality vegetation.

Strong browsing requirement so good for scrub control.


Swaledale, Cheviot, Welsh Mountain, Scottish Blackface, Herdwick

Extremely hardy to extremes of weather. Small in size, able to do well on poor quality vegetation.

Good browsers so good for sites requiring scrub control.


Beulah, Clun, Hil Radnor, Kerry Hill

Most breeds are hardy, but less so than primitive and hill breeds.

Readily graze unimproved and coarse vegetation, but may not maintain body condition as well as primitive or hill breeds.

Lowland breeds

Suffolk, Romney Marsh, Hampshire down, Poll Dorset, Shropshire, Texel

Generally not particularly hardy. Heavy breeds with less tolerance to extremes of weather.

Generally only gain condition on improved/fertile semi-natural grass, likely to require food supplements in winter. Unlikely to browse significantly.

Notes on table 3:

  • Though the Breed Profiles Handbook is approaching breed selection from the perspective of maintaining open ground rather than that of managing woodland, it contains information on the grazing and browsing characteristics of all main breeds of sheep that could be invaluable for matching breed to woodland management objectives.
  • To some extent the amount of browsing done by sheep depends on how hungry they are.

Table 4: Comparisons between species




Cattle versus sheep

The diet of cattle usually contained more dead herbage, Nardus, sedges and rushes but less forbs and other fine-leaved grasses than the diet of sheep. Diet digestibility was usually higher for sheep treatments than for the cattle treatment. 

Grant (1996)

Sheep, cattle and deer

Sheep and cattle are primarily grazers, compared to red and roe deer, which are primarily browsers.

Hofmann, (1989)

Cattle and horses

Mixed grazing (both horses and cattle present) produced the more species rich and structurally diverse swards in a French coastal grassland, compared to either species alone.

Loucougaray et al. (2004)

Cattle versus sheep

Sheep diets in summer contained more forbs and less grass flower stems than cattle diets. Sheep generally consume a diet containing more live material than cattle do. Cattle are more likely than sheep to graze tall, fibrous elements of the sward.

Grant et al. (1985)

Cattle and sheep

Grazing livestock affect biodiversity in pastures through the creation and maintenance of sward structural heterogeneity, particularly as a result of dietary choice. Differences between sheep and cattle in their impact on grazed communities relate to differences in their dental and digestive anatomy, but also, and probably more importantly, to body size. Differences between breeds within species appear to be relatively minor and again largely related to body size.
We conclude there is an urgent need to understand the genetic basis of these differences and also to separate true breed effects from effects of rearing environment.

Rook et al. (2004).

Cattle and sheep

Cattle produce a greater trampling effect than sheep, being larger, heavier animals, and can push through taller, denser bracken stands. Sheep may also produce limited trampling effects around the edges of bracken areas and may partially graze the fronds, although...

MacDonald (1998)


Sheep poaching generally is too compact to create suitable niches for tree regeneration.

Richard Thompson, personal communication


Grant, S.A., Suckling, D.E., Smith, H.K., Torvell, L., Forbes, T.D.A. & Hodgson, J. (1985) Comparative studies of diet selection by sheep and cattle: the hill grasslands. Journal of Ecology73, 987-1004.

Grazing Animals Project, Editors Tolhurst, S & Oates, M. (2001) The Breed Profiles Handbook. English Nature.

Grant, S.A., Torvell, L., Sim, E.M., Small, J.L. & Armstrong, R.H. (1996) Controlled grazing studies on Nardus grassland: effects of between-tussock sward height and species of grazer on Nardus utilisation and floristic composition in two fields in Scotland. J.Appl.Ecol.33, 1053-1064.

MacDonald, A.M., Stevens, P., Armstrong, H.M., Immirzi, P. & Reynolds, P. (1998). A Guide to Upland Habitats. Surveying Land Management Impacts. Scottish Natural Heritage, Battleby.

Hofmann, R.R. (1989) Evolutionary Steps of Ecophysiological Adaptation and Diversification of Ruminants - A Comparative View of Their Digestive System. Oecologia78, 443-457.

Loucougaray, G., Bonis, A. & Bouzille, J.B. (2004) Effects of grazing by horses and/or cattle on the diversity of coastal grasslands in western France. Biological Conservation116, 59-71.

Rook,A.J., Dumont, B., Isselstein, J., Osoro, K., Wallis DeVries, M.F., Parente, G. & Mills, J. (2004) Matching type of livestock to desired biodiversity outcomes in pastures - a review. Biological Conservation, 119, 137-150.