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Free Your Mind, the Rest Will Follow

August 19, 2011

Implementing tall grass, mob stocking required me to free my mind from any type of grazing methods I had been exposed to, be it continuous grazing, or rapid fire rotational with 6 to 8 passes over the pastures in a season.  High Density, Short Duration grazing is a hoof stomping, get in your face way to rejuvenate your pasture land.  I like it.  The Paso Doble of grazing, if you will…

First you have to let your grass get mature.  Or at least some of it.  A well-stocked sward contains many different kinds of plants.  Some brown for carbon.

And some green for grazing.

And you have to be brave, because it will look like this.  I know you’re shaking your head right now.  It should be green and lush and have that lawn look.  Not the xeriscaped “green” look.  If you look to the left of the photo, you can see it is greening up on its own.  And it will be resilient and drought resistant because the grass was rested before grazing. The cows will not graze here again this year.  Twice is plenty.  A benefit of not having the pasture eaten into the ground is that when the rain does begin to fall, it will stay here.  The soil is loose and friable because the grass roots run deep.  Tall grass = long, deep roots.  Short grass = short roots.

Conventional advice would tell you to fertilize your pastures with Triple 16, or if you’re frugal or a sustainable thinker you would be spreading your composted manure on your hay fields.  This is much simpler.  I am letting making the cows do it.  With a tall grass mob stocking, size your paddocks so the cows get enough to eat, they trample some of the ranker grass and leave their manure and urine in the pasture where it belongs.  The cows do well because the grass is balanced between protein and energy.  It’s all about striking a balance.  We will spread some compost on fields we cut for hay this year, but not as much as we did in the past.  We also have less to spread because with the mob stocking, our pastures are getting more productive, and we are feeding less hay.  A huge savings labor and money wise.

Waiting patiently while I build the next paddock.

And actually mob stocking is much faster for me, I am building less fence.

Paddock shift.

The cows always check out the perimeter and then get down to business.

After they are through the gate, I move the water and minerals, and that is it, until tomorrow.

It’s good to be curious and pensive in our daily lives.  Mob stocking isn’t for everyone.  Many still like the freedom of thought and no work with a free-range set-up.   I’m not a fan of free range anything, but it sure is a popular marketing tool.  I could drive down the road a ways right now and buy some free range eggs, chicken or pork from a local, I’ll pass thank you.  I’ve seen the proverbial permanent dust bath, mud hole paddocks.  I prefer the look of actual pasture.

Free your mind, and hopefully the rest will follow.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2011 3:24 pm

    So you are moving the cows every day?

  2. August 19, 2011 6:06 pm

    Do the cows leave themselves an area free to sit down? I seem to always see cows taking naps if they aren’t chowing down.

    • August 19, 2011 7:37 pm

      Kerry, once they eat their fill, they lie down to ruminate. They spend about as much time ruminating as eating.

  3. August 19, 2011 6:12 pm

    How interesting…there’s a lot of thought and planning that goes into your pasture management but in the end it’s much easier. Reading your posts always makes me wish we had more land! Have a great weekend.
    Maura 🙂

  4. Randall Brennan permalink
    August 19, 2011 8:59 pm

    That’s a nice looking bull. What breed is he? Are you breeding Jane this summer? To him? (I apologize if that’s all too personal.)

    • August 19, 2011 10:18 pm

      Randall, he’s a Hereford Simmental cross, but I’m having Jane AI’d to a smaller birthweight Hereford when she cycles the next time.

  5. August 19, 2011 10:27 pm

    What a great post for me to read right now. I’d love to see some more ‘after’ photos. And what happens to the litter between cycles – how well does it decompose after a month, 2 months, 3 months…? Is that the first time that paddock has been grazed this year, if so how does it look the second graze compared to the first?

    We’re getting a lot of litter after the cows leave. A lot of trodden down stuff (which is good, but after 3 months it is still not decomposing much) and a lot of standing dead grasses. Our herd is small (28) and as it grows we should get the grass trod in better. I’m chopping some paddocks after the cows leave and letting others rest as an experiment. When it gets a bit more damp I’m wondering about getting the cultipacker out and rolling where the litter buildup is the highest to encourage litter-soil contact.

    The biggest issue I hadn’t expected is how long it is taking for the grasses to decompose. Our climate is likely drier than yours and we get more worm activity in winter than summer. We’ve been in drought for the spring and the lack of water will have been slowing down decomposition. I’m also thinking after decades of being constantly chewed to the ground the soil will take some time to build up the quality necessary to decompose grass well.

    On the plus side our paddocks are recovering from grazing better than our neighbors’, who hay everything possible in spring and leave a short green lawn. Their grass grows back very slowly and they all feed hay/balage through the summer. We haven’t fed hay, but it is not fair to compare since our herd size is small relative to our farm size.

    I’m still gathering thoughts and experimental results and will write something up at some point. But I would love to see a multi-month view of your paddocks going through a couple of grazing cycles. Cheers, Brent.

    • August 20, 2011 11:21 am

      Brent, I’m going to do an additional post with photos I took this am, to kind of show the differences in what I am seeing and going into some time frames. This particular pasture was grazed the first week in April in one paddock (4 acres), then again the first week in May in 3 paddocks, and this go around it will yield about 45 paddocks.

      There are fields around here that are just hayed with no animal impact ever, and even with abundant rainfall will not yield much, even with a long rest. i love it when people tell me we have more grass because it rains more here on our particular piece of ground. 🙂 I just smile as they are feeding hay, and I am only building fence.

      I’m thinking you need smaller paddocks and more manure coverage for the dung beetles to set up camp, along with the trampling of course. That was the hardest for me – making the paddocks smaller. I was used to seeing the cows wandering about. Now I’m used to seeing them mobbed up.

      • August 20, 2011 12:44 pm

        Yeah, we don’t nearly run the density you do. We get close only in the most fertile parts of the farm. Remember our whole farm was run like your neighbors for decades – every paddock hayed every spring and then overgrazed the rest of the time as they chase grass and feed the hay back. It is going to take some time for the soil to recover.

        It didn’t rain for three months April-June and it was very hot for that time. The soil dried and cracked in spring when it usually goes nuts with growth. According to the news, pasture productivity is down 50% and the government is handing out cash for us cow farmers. I have to get my papers in by the end of the month. France loves her farmers.

        Looking around it is clear that in drought conditions those pastures could do with some extra time to recover. If we are in a similar situation again I might add some hay to make pasture recovery times longer. As it is we are the only farm around not to have fed hay, but that is only because we left it on the ground instead of haying it.

        The true test of utility of this system will be our fall regrowth rates, how well we have grass into winter and how quickly we green up in spring. Our summer regrowth seems way better than our neighbors, but it is hard to see how it could be otherwise given how hammered their pastures are getting.

        It seems you are running a couple of fast early passes through the farm. We might try some variation on that on part of the farm next spring to see what effect it has.

        The herd will likely increase to 40 or so this fall as I add some more heifers and steers, so we’ll see what effect that has on trampling. And after a year of leaving the litter behind instead of haying we should start to build up some better soil conditions.

        I see you have a flickr account so I can always check that for photos. Thanks for taking some. I know your animal, climate and soil conditions are different, but it is excellent to read your posts and see your photos.

    • A.A. permalink
      August 21, 2011 11:36 am

      I thought I’d chip in in case it’s helpful. I just started and this is my second summer grazing five cows and a bull on six hectares here in Scandinavia. Hay and grains were grown on the fields before this. I wanted to say that some paddocks have responded much better than others.

      I made the mistake of not having the whole area for myself last summer, so most of it was made for hay once before I got to graze it. I think I should’ve let it all grow exceptionally mature and then level it with the cows for enough trampling. It seems that if the trampling grass won’t create a distinct moist, protected space between itself and the soil that you can dig into to take a look, it won’t decompose right, and very mature fields would’ve given a better chance of success there. I may be wrong of course, but this is the idea I have right now. The fields’ growth was a bit uneven to begin with, then it got to haying time, then a long dry spell right after haying, and that really set the recovery back. One paddock turned almost entirely from timothy to browntop before I even got there and the unevenness got worse. On that paddock I made another mistake, which was not supplementing hay to allow for small enough paddocks on it when the cows grazed the sparse and mature browntop. There was almost no trampling the first time around and it didn’t grow that much better this year either. This year the sward was noticeably thicker, though, so I got some trampling all over the paddock, but not enough to create that special moist and protective layer on most parts of it.

      There’s a paddock about a quater of the whole area that’s been a “biodiversity field” for some years. It was pretty thin timothy with green undergrowth that only got grazed once last summer in August, and it responded beautifully. That may’ve had to with some basic soil healing work that the sparse crop had managed to do, and it may’ve been helped by letting the overgrowth get entirely brown before grazing and trampling it. I got this spring’s first week on that paddock, grazing very lightly, and then about twenty days on a mature crop in July. The forage was decidedly better than last year and I got a very good trampling effect to boot. Now it looks like it’ll make for a late September/October paddock as well. The regrowth is very even and thick and this year I got trampling all over the paddock whereas last year several parts had virtually nothing to graze or to trample. There’s that moist layer, the manure and trampled grass gets eaten up by the critters, and there’s nothing repugnant left on the paddock when the cows return.

      Yet another tiny paddock was eaten down to the ground last year by some horses, and I mean almost nothing was left. It didn’t grow back in the fall and there were huge gaps of dirt visible in between the plants. However, that paddock had also been rested before the horses overgrazed it. It grew back well enough this spring–much better than some other paddocks that saw a lot more delicate grazing–and now that I’ve had the chance to graze and trample it with a few sheep like it should be done, the response has been simply amazing: very even and dense regrowth, it looks biologically very active, there’s a nice amount of clover coming up, the docks are disappearing, and it looks like it’ll grow two full crops this season unlike most fields (mine or otherwise). I think that once I can get that truly protective layer of trampled grass on the rest of the paddocks, they’ll turn around properly as well.

      Anyway, just in case that gives you any ideas.

      And thanks for the post again, Nita! We just put the bull in with the cows and calves today, and I’m sure glad I don’t have one as big as yours to play with! Ours is probably half that size 🙂 How’s the temperament on yours? I brought one cow back on a halter to lead the bull to the pasture with, but it was still should I say interesting to get him where I wanted him. In the end, the bull went past us, then smelled the cows upwind and found the way on his own and nobody got hurt 🙂 The cow was such a good helper and walked nicely with me.

      • August 21, 2011 11:22 pm

        AA, thanks that is interesting to read.

  6. August 20, 2011 4:22 am

    Good information, Thanks. I have read briefly about bog stocking but your post explains it better. I still hope to own some animal(s) needing pasture before I reach 75, which is rapidly approaching!

  7. Anne Taliaferro permalink
    August 20, 2011 10:35 am

    How many head of cattle do you have there, and about how large are the paddocks in the photos? Can you size the paddocks to last 2 or 3 days, or does mob grazing require daily moves? And lastly, is there a time of day that you prefer to move them?

    • August 20, 2011 11:35 am

      Anne, 17 head, and the paddocks are about one tenth of an acre. I could make the paddocks larger for several days but I wouldn’t get the trampling or freshness that a one day paddock yields. We have grazed Jane and Willy (horse) in ridiculously small paddocks this summer and it has worked great with just one animal per paddock. I move them in the late afternoon so they can eat their fill and ruminate during the cool of the night.

      Don’t feel bad about not wanting to build fence every day, every couple days is still better than just leaving them be for the grazing season. 🙂

  8. Sid permalink
    August 20, 2011 12:49 pm

    You write:’ We will spread some compost on fields we cut for hay this year, but not as much as we did in the past. We also have less to spread because with the mob stocking, our pastures are getting more productive, and we are feeding less hay. A huge savings labor and money wise.’
    Can you put this more in perspective over the past years? Does ‘pastures are getting more productive’ mean the pasturese need less composted manure for the same yield of feed? Does ‘we are feeding less hay’ mean the cows can stay longer in the fields? Can you make a practical comparison between let say this year, two years ago and 5 years ago?


  9. Hayden permalink
    August 21, 2011 6:48 am

    Still working to translate your experience to chickens, and to my (currently) different goals. Right now my hens are clearing a large bed in front of the house, section by section. But I don’t want it to regenerate, I want the weeds and grass gone, so I leave them much longer, bring them green stuff to compensate, cover it with deep, half-decomposed hay when I move them. Chicks will be 3 weeks old next Wed, so they will be outdoors in about a week and a half, and put to work in tractors in my garden. Hard to evaluate how close to keep them. Already had a bit of pecking, and don’t want more of that. I spend a lot of time staring at the hens, at the chicks. Learning. Have keets on order too.

  10. Christina permalink
    August 21, 2011 5:31 pm

    Perhaps “free your mind, the rest will fallow”? 🙂

  11. Wendy Roller permalink
    August 22, 2011 5:54 pm

    Have you ever done the mob stocking with smaller ruminants like goats or sheep? Also is shade an issue in your climate? Here I would be leery of such small paddocks because many would have no shelter at all and for at least 2 months of this summer that would have been deadly.

  12. August 26, 2011 6:05 am

    This is how we did it. I described it to our customers as making the cows eat their peas. When you let them just wander all season, they just eat what they want the “candy.” We had customers that would buy meat from us, and when they ran out they would buy from another farm, claiming organic and free-range, our customers repeatably told us ours tasted better.

    We also did this with our sheep. When we first got our sheep we did what the lady we bought them from told us- grain and free-range. The lamb was good, but with mob stocking it is amazing! This year we are getting goats, and although I don’t think it will work the same, a wooded area as well. It will be a learning process.

    Great Post!


  1. State of the Pasture « Throwback at Trapper Creek

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