Mob Grazing Cattle Made Simple

With a mob of cows, a paddock system, high-tensile wire, and electric fencing, you can cut hay expenses, improve soil and pasture health, and maximize herd performance.

| August/September 2016

Mob Grazing Cattle

A line of cows is the best treatment for your pasture.

Photo by Lynn Stone

At Green Pastures Farm, we’ve practiced Management-intensive Grazing — also called high-density, or “mob” grazing — for almost a decade, as a part of our holistic grazing plan. In that time, I’m proud that we’ve doubled our stocking rate and reduced our hay usage by 70 percent — a massive financial relief. We’ve also cut inputs. No fertilizer, seed, and lime — just a regularly rotated mob of cattle. While some folks think of high-density grazing as the “new thing” in grassland and livestock management, mob graziers aim to recreate something quite old — the traditional behaviors that bison, deer, elk, and other ruminant livestock exhibited on native prairie and meadowland in response to predators and fire that we’ve largely removed from the equation.

Thanks to some quick daily monitoring, we’ve found a “sweet spot” for pasture and herd health. Throughout the rotation, we ensure that every animal gets a full diet of nutritious forage and that our plants are never overgrazed. Also, thanks to the constant shearing of grass tips, high-density grazing combats climate change by sequestering carbon in soil. Without a doubt, Management-intensive Grazing has made some dramatic, positive changes to our pastures — and it’ll do the same for you.

Mob Graze for Pasture Health

At its simplest, mob grazing is an efficient technique for managing your livestock and pastureland. Using temporary electric fencing, you divide your pasture into a series of small paddocks, or cells, and move your herd daily from one paddock to the next. You’ll pack a dense number of animals into a fairly small space, but it works because the rotation allows the grasses to recover before the herd can graze them again.

Livestock positively impact forages and soil in many ways. First, higher stocking densities, or more pounds of cattle on a given acre, mean more forage trampled on the ground to form and break up the litter bank. A litter bank, or anything organic that’s trampled onto the ground, will protect your soil from sunlight, help preserve moisture, and catch rainwater for growing more forage. I like to think of a litter bank as a smorgasbord that soil microbes feed on. And all their munching stimulates more plant growth, which can mean faster pasture recovery for my herd.

Higher stocking densities also bring about better manure and urine distribution, which will allow you to grow more forage without buying fertilizer. The livestock will do all the work for you. Finally, Management-intensive Grazing also encourages a much higher diversity of plants in your pasture. After you start increasing the stocking density of the animals, they’ll become much less selective. Plants that they might not normally eat under a less dense, set-stock grazing density will become food. It becomes a competition of who gets at it first!

Map Your Paddocks Systems

Don’t install a lot of permanent paddocks when you first deploy mob-grazing methods. The permanent paddocks will only get in the way while you’re trying to learn how to best graze your ground. The more open you can leave your farm, the easier it will be to install temporary paddocks. You’ll also have fewer gates to deal with, which will make herd moves more efficient.

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