Mob Grazing Mob Grazing graze by benbenzhou


Mob Grazing Mob Grazing graze

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Mob Grazing
                                                                  March 2010

                                                                                                                                                     Young bulls line up for a new strip of
                                                                                                                                                     forage at Jared Wareham’s ranch.

High-density stocking builds profits back into the cattle business.
            Story & photos by                 20 cows per acre with two-day grazing            cow numbers or lease additional land to           Intensive grazing eliminates the need
             Boyd KidWell                     periods followed by 30-day rest periods.         initiate mob grazing. Depending on how         for clipping pastures and controls weeds so
                                              The operation required tons of hay,              quickly your land produces forage, grazing     no herbicides are needed.
                                              commercial fertilizer and Judy spent             pressure must be reduced at first so plants
    Mob grazing saved Greg Judy’s cattle      $5,000 per year on clover seed to plant his      grow tall and produce leftover organic         Wildlife haven
operation. In 1999, Greg and his wife,        pastures with legumes. The cattle grazed         matter that’s trampled into the soil when          You might think mob grazing is
Jan, faced losing their farm to bankruptcy.   each paddock eight times a year.                 the paddock is briefly mob-grazed.             negative for wildlife, but Judy contends
During the past 10 years, Judy has honed         Now, Judy manages all three herds as              Turning hayfields into pastures is one     that planned high-density grazing
his grazing management to the point that      one big mob of 320 head at a rate of up          place to gain grazing acreage. It’s often      improves habitat by bringing back warm-
he has quit buying seed and fertilizer,       to 250,000 pounds (lb.) per acre. Under          more cost-efficient to move hayfield acres     season grasses and legumes from seed
owns no machinery and feeds almost no         planned high-density grazing, Judy moves         into a grazing rotation and buy a smaller      laying dormant in the soil.
hay on the livestock operation near Clark,    the animals twice a day and paddocks             quantity of hay for weather emergencies.           Judy actually got one of his long-
Mo.                                           are grazed every 140-180 days, or two to         Unless an operation produces several           term leases because of a high deer
    At the same time, Judy has doubled the    three times per year. By not buying clover       hundred tons of hay per year, economists       population on his land. He was showing
beef production on his land. As a result of   seed, Judy saves $5,000 a year and he has        point out that most ranchers can’t justify     his neighboring landowner, an out-
reduced costs and increased production,       more legumes in his pastures than before.        owning hay equipment.                          of-state resident, around the mob
the Judys have paid off the mortgage on       New stands of big bluestem, Indian grass,            When forage is ready for mob grazing,      grazing land when they jumped several
their 300-acre farm and Greg recently         switchgrass and gama grass have appeared         Judy’s rule of thumb is, “Graze half and       whitetails. The absentee landowner is
gave up his off-farm job. Greg gives the      from seed stored in the soil.                    leave half.” Under his system, the mob         very interested in deer hunting and at
credit for this comeback to year-round           The grazing ratio has changed from            grazes off the most nutritious parts of        that time wasn’t managing livestock on
mob grazing.                                  4.5 acres per animal unit (AU=1,000 lb.)         the plants and tramples in the remaining       his land in hopes of building up the deer
    “If you feed very much hay or             to 2.2 acres per AU and forage production        organic matter to increase litter. The         population. However, the land was grown
supplements, you aren’t making any            has doubled. Judy is using the extra forage      animals will be in the paddock for a day or    up in fescue and broom sedge, not high-
money with beef cattle,” Judy says.           to expand his cow herd for a grass-fed beef      less and the stand will then have a recovery   quality wildlife habitat. The whitetails
    In order to understand mob grazing,       business, and he has added 300 head of           period of 140-180 days.                        had moved to Judy’s land for the legumes
or planned high-density grazing as Judy       hair sheep. Judy manages the livestock on                                                       and native grasses brought back by mob
also calls the technique, you need to         900 acres (300 acres owned and 600 acres         Tools of the trade                             grazing.
understand where the Missouri grazier         leased.)                                             Judy manages his cattle operation with         “This is where all of my deer have
started and how he now operates.                 “This reduction in grazing acres per          a minimum of equipment that includes a         gone,” said the landowner, and instantly
Before he turned to mob grazing, Judy         AU is like having another 600-acre farm,         pickup (with a bale unroller for emergency     leased his land to Judy. Now the absentee
managed three herds of cattle on separate     and we don’t even have to pay additional         feeding); a four-wheeler; 3:1 geared poly-     landowner returns with his family each
farms. He used management-intensive           land taxes. In our area, 600 acres is worth      wire reels; step-in posts; poly-wire fence;    year to harvest deer and to fill his freezer
grazing (MiG) with pastures divided           $1.8 million,” Judy says.                        and electric fence chargers.                   with grass-fed beef produced on his own
into paddocks, and he managed 16 to                                                                Once cattle learn to expect fresh          land.
                                              The litter effect                                pasture when the four-wheeler arrives,             In addition to deer, Judy sees increased
                                                  As Judy describes the benefits of mob        moving animals to a new paddock takes          populations of quail, wild turkey and
                                              grazing, he emphasizes one word – litter.        less than 30 minutes. Over the weekend,        songbirds that flock to the mob-grazing
                                                  Judy’s planned high-density grazing          Judy lays out seven paddocks for the           area to eat insects stirred up by the cattle.
                                              revolves around building up a heavy              week’s grazing pattern. Depending on
                                              supply of ground litter (organic matter)         forage supplies, Judy lays out paddocks of     Mob grazing spreads
                                              that shades the soil and soaks up water          five to 10 acres each and includes travel         Other cattlemen are discovering the
                                              from rainfall. When Judy leases a piece of       lanes to water supplies and shade.             benefits of mob grazing. Jared Wareham
                                              land, his first step is to build up litter. As
                                              organic matter increases, microbes come
                                              alive in the soil. When Judy evaluates a            On your own
                                              pasture’s health, he gets on his knees and
                                              digs for earthworms.                                   Unfortunately, there has been little university research into mob grazing. Most
                                                  “I examined my soil recently and                of the information is coming from ranchers who practice high-density grazing
                                              found 15 earthworms in 3 square inches              techniques on their own land. A few researchers have set up mob-grazing dem-
                                              of soil. The earthworm holes have turned            onstrations, but it takes months and years to realize the environmental benefits
                                              my pastures into big sponges that absorb            ranchers describe that come from building organic matter in pasture soils.
                                              rainwater, and earthworm castings build                David Davis, superintendent of the Missouri Forage Systems Research Sta-
                                              soil fertility,” Judy says. “I don’t fear
                                                                                                  tion, set up a mob-grazing demonstration in September 2009. Davis is looking
                                              droughts any more.”
                                                                                                  forward to observing how the mob-grazed area recovers this spring. Until more is
                                              How to join the mob                                 known about the long-term effects of high-intensity grazing, Davis recommends
Mob grazing cut expenses and saved Greg          If your pastures are bare coming                 that producers continue taking soil tests and fertilizing accordingly.
Judy’s cattle operation.                      out of winter, you may need to reduce
                                                                                                                 March 2010                                                                  29
of Lowry City, Mo., views mob grazing                the grazing season, Wareham is always in       points out that mob grazing can be
as a tool that makes his operation more              stockpiling mode and builds up a supply of     flexible.                                           10 reasons
efficient. Wareham mob grazes cows and               forage to graze cattle almost year-round.          “Don’t be overwhelmed by the idea
bulls he raises in a partnership with Flying             “When we started using mob grazing         of moving cattle once or twice every day.           to mob graze
H Genetics of Arapahoe, Neb.                         as a pasture management tool, the farm         If you can’t make it out to the pasture for
    By giving animals new strips of forage           quickly transitioned from a monoculture        three days, give the herd enough forage                Here are Greg Judy’s top 10 rea-
twice a day, Wareham currently grazes                of fescue to mixed-grass pastures with         for that window of time. Rationing forage           sons to start planned high-density
150 bulls at a stock density of 250,000 lb.          the re-emergence of native warm-season         supplies throughout the year significantly          grazing.
per acre. He manages animal density to               grasses,” Wareham says. “We now have           reduces the two top profit-draining costs            1. Improve forage quality.
meet challenges presented by changes in              a diverse community of grasses and some        of owning cattle — feed and equipment.
forage quality, excessive rainfall and ice           species provide grazing in years when          Every bale of hay you don’t haul is money            2. Reduce hay and feed costs.
storms. Cattle can graze the stockpiled              other species don’t perform well.”             in your pocket,” Wareham says.                       3. Eliminate seed purchases.
forage through several inches of snow but                As for equipment, Wareham manages                                                               4. Increase legumes and native
require hay during ice storms, the Angus             his operation with a flatbed truck, a cattle   Mob grazing teaches ranchers                             grasses.
bull producer observes.                              trailer and an ATV. For producers who              Texas has a long history of ranchers             5. Reduce weed problems.
    By making full use of pastures during            can’t move cattle every day, Wareham           practicing high-density, quick-rotation              6. Minimize equipment costs.
                                                                                                    grazing that started with Allan Savory in            7. Improve manure distribution.
                                                                                                    the 1980s. Clifton Marek of Ledbetter,
                                                                                                    T exas, has been using Savory grazing                8. Improve wildlife habitat.
                                                                                                    techniques since 1988 and now manages                9. Increase beef production
                                                                                                    a combination of stockers and brood                      per acre.
                                                                                                    cows in a mob-grazing operation on his              10. Increase profits.
                                                                                                    ranch. Marek doesn’t own hay equipment,
                                                                                                    applies no fertilizer and doesn’t buy seed.            To learn more about Judy’s
                                                                                                    Cattle do most of the work on the central           grazing program, visit
                                                                                                    T exas ranch.                             
                                                                                                        At times, Marek manages up to
                                                                                                    300,000 lb. of beef per acre. T make full
                                                                                                    use of his forage, Marek moves the cattle        In 2007, he sold off his stockers and sent
                                                                                                    twice a day. His extra trips to the pasture      the cow-calf herd to graze in Kansas. But
                                                                                                    save money compared to feeding hay and           the veteran rancher is back in business for
                                                                                                    supplement all winter.                           2010, thanks in part to mob grazing.
                                                                                                        “I don’t have to sit on a tractor and bale       “We’ve had the worst two years I’ve
                                                                                                    hay and then deliver stored feed to cattle       ever seen,” Marek says. “But now we’ve
                                                                                                    in bad weather. I’d rather move cattle           got more grass than I’ve ever seen, and
                                                                                                    than drive a tractor,” says the 70-year-old      I think the long rest between grazing
                                                                                                    rancher.                                         periods helped the forage recover.”
Jared Wareham of Lowry City, Mo., moves his polywire fence to give his cattle fresh forage for          Like other T  exas cattlemen, Marek
intensive grazing. Wareham uses mob grazing to make his operation more efficient.                   has battled drought the past two years.

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