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It’s All Movement and a Function of Time

July 22, 2014

The single hardest concept about Management-intensive Grazing (MiG) to understand is how to use time in relationship to your land.  It’s not just about building fence and putting the stock out there to pick around.  If you mob them up and move them every day you can meet several objectives at once.  It took a long time for us to figure this out, coming from a continuous grazing, free-range mentality.

♥  Feed – it’s best to have fresh forage for the stock every day.

♥  Weed control – cattle will eat many “weeds” if you  mob them up with one day paddocks.  Save the hog mower for after the cows move through. Pay attention to what they eat and what they leave.  You’ll save fuel and time, and maybe only have a few weeds to contend with.  We have two, tansy ragwort and blackberries.  Every other plant in the pastures is palatable and gets grazed.

♥  Fertilization – manure and urine are the obvious contributors of course, but the plants provide important nutrients as well.  As the grass is grazed the roots self prune adding to the organic matter of the soil, and if you have your stock mobbed you get the trampling effect above ground as well.  Ready made compost only you don’t have to make it or apply it, you just need to apply the grazing pressure.

Foggy Bottom Girls

Foggy Bottom Girls

I think though we all in our minds have photos of cattle in green grass like the one pictured above.  But with MiG you have to take some ugly, you do have to add disturbance into the picture.  In the pasture and in your mind.

before mob stocking

before mob stocking

This field now looks like this:

after mob stocking

after mob stocking

Or more specifically like this:

grazed, trampled and fertilized

grazed, trampled and fertilized

You don’t have to be a maniac and move the cows every few hours like some mob stockers do, once a day is about the perfect balance.  You have a life too you know, and once a day allows you to correct any mistakes in over-allotting or under-allotting pasture.  Too many times a day is almost as bad as moving the cows on a weekly or every two-week schedule, you can’t really observe on a daily basis if you’re on the tight or loose schedule.

We’re experiencing a dry summer this year, drier than normal since we had a dry winter and spring.  Friends of mine who don’t rotationally graze are running out of pasture and begging for this rainstorm today.  We’ve got plenty of grass, and the fields are coming back good after grazing or hay mowing.  All a sign that we are getting better at our timed grazing and rest periods.  Most pasture problems come from over  and under.  Over-grazed or under-grazed.  Yes, too much rest is as bad as too much grazing.  Over-stocked or understocked.  Too many cows is as bad as too few in relation to pasture health.

The most important thing is the one day time frame.  The function of time, in timed grazing.  I feel my friend’s pain, I know what it is like to be in a dry summer, and be lamenting the lack of good grass in July.  Just as a benchmark for us, and a good farm record we take lots of photos of the fields at all different times of the year.  We take notes too, but a picture is worth a thousand words.  Here are some photos of different fields taken this past weekend the third week of July.

July 20, 2014.  Regrowth on hay field cut July 14, 2014

July 20, 2014. Regrowth on hay field cut July 14, 2014


July 20, 2014.  Broiler field, broilers harvested June 28, 2014

July 20, 2014. Broiler field, broilers harvested June 28, 2014


July 20, 2014.  Regrowth hay field cut July 7th, 2014

July 20, 2014. Regrowth hay field cut July 7th, 2014


July 21, 2014.  Last grazed May 25, 2014

July 21, 2014. Last grazed May 25, 2014


Today July 22, 2014

Today July 22, 2014

There is nothing special about our pastures, they are a mix of what is adapted to our climate and the grazing pressure we apply.  But I have to say the single biggest changes have come about from the daily moving of the cattle, which applies adequate impact, and then adequate rest.  Our pastures have grown by leaps and bounds because of the change in how they are managed.  Loving it.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2014 10:26 am

    I’m glad you mentioned Tansy Ragwort. My wife and I recently purchased a piece of property in SW Washington. We visited the property this past Friday and there is a significant infestation of both Tansy Ragwort and Creeping Buttercup.

    We aren’t planning on having animals on the property until later winter 2015. How would you recommend fighting off these weeds? I have read that MiG sheep is a viable option along with lime.

    • July 22, 2014 12:11 pm

      AM, sheep are excellent at getting rid of tansy, they are immune to the alkaloids in the plant that make it toxic to other ruminants. Cows in conjunction with sheep are a good idea although fencing for sheep isn’t as simple as for cattle due to predation problems. Rotational grazing has eliminated tansy here except in shady corners of our pastures. Now it’s more of pull, or hoe out the offenders instead of having the entire acreage covered. The buttercup is more of a drainage type problem, so I’m not sure how you can approach that one, and lastly lime is always a good idea in the PNW for pastures due to our high rainfall.

      • July 23, 2014 2:43 pm

        How many days or weeks are the cows trailing behind the sheep?

        • July 23, 2014 2:49 pm

          AM, none the sheep stays at the farmstead mowing areas that are hard to get to with the cows/equipment. Together would be preferable if you’re thinking of combining species.

        • July 23, 2014 2:59 pm

          I see. I am just thinking about how I integrate the cows in these fields that have Tansy without poisoning them.

        • July 23, 2014 3:47 pm

          AM, they won’t eat the tansy, it is poisonous, but they only eat it when it is dried, so that usually means hay. It’s also a cumulative poison, they would have to eat pounds of it dried for it to affect them. The only plant here in my part of the northwest (and possibly yours) that a cow will actually eat and die from rather quickly is Larkspur, or commonly known as Poison Delphinium, or Staggerweed.

          So don’t worry so much about the tansy, if you’re going to get sheep in the future. The main thing now is to keep this year’s plants from seeding, you can pull the plants, or cut off the stalks and burn them. Tansy ragwort is a biennial, it forms a rosette shaped plant the first year that many times escapes notice, dies back over winter and in late spring it send up it tall stalk that you are seeing now with the yellow flowers.

        • July 24, 2014 7:05 pm

          You are such an incredible source of knowledge.

          Will cows eat mayweed? Mayweed does not seem as easy as Tansy to just pull out and burn. What would you suggest for battling mayweed?

        • July 24, 2014 9:15 pm

          AM, improve the drainage, we only have it in our high impact areas, our paths, barnyards, etc. It likes compacted, poorly drained soil.

  2. July 22, 2014 10:58 am

    This maybe asking a bit much, but would it be possible to draw a bird’s eye view of your fields and how you set out your fences? Nothing flash, just a line drawing? I just can’t quite picture what you do with your fences from the angle of the photos. Must admit though the ground is looking good. The only problem we seem to have is the alpacas seem to like the short grass to the longer stuff. I think we need to get a bit meaner to them and get them out more in the field instead of letting them retreat to the shed for shelter – then again with those warm coats on, they do get a bit sweaty

    • July 22, 2014 12:18 pm

      Joanna, I think this post gives a good idea and even includes a drawing! Usually I’m sketching quilts not fields 😉 But this old post sums up what I do to each and every field, they all are different but the fencing methods are pretty much the same, except early spring/shorter grass would have me making much larger paddocks so the cows have enough to eat in one day. I’m a meanie, no going back to the barn or shade, but I don’t have alpacas either 😉

      • July 22, 2014 9:05 pm

        Great thank you, that was very helpful. I suppose one of the biggest problems we have is that alpacas have poo piles rather than distributing their manure over the whole land. We noticed the difference with the sheep. My husband tends to set them up in one place and they have to fend for themselves, more or less, but we use them to distribute a good amount of manure and then move them on. We have plenty of land for them to do that on. My concern though with the alpacas is over grazing the grass and so we have to think about that, but we also have to think that they need locking away at night due to predators. Balancing all that out is tricky.

  3. Lisa T. permalink
    July 22, 2014 11:44 am

    Love that you share your knowledge about your pastures. It is very interesting and helpful to me. Thanks!

  4. Asa permalink
    July 23, 2014 9:17 am

    Your photos are so wonderful! The link back to your drawings was very helpful to understand your paddock system. Thank you for all your information, I have learnt a lot since I started reading your blog!

  5. July 23, 2014 10:00 am

    I know. We are undergrazed this year, not enough stock, but next year should be better. I am putting fields into hay that I have never down before. Unlike you we are getting lots of rain. I can tell you are very proud of your fields, i have always thought of farmers being grass gardeners. c

    On Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 12:54 PM, Throwback at Trapper Creek wrote:

    > matronofhusbandry posted: “The single hardest concept about > Management-intensive Grazing (MiG) to understand is how to use time in > relationship to your land. It’s not just about building fence and putting > the stock out there to pick around. If you mob them up and move them every > “

  6. July 25, 2014 1:19 pm

    What is the pink? I think we have it here in Georgia. It’s beautiful, but I haven’t figured out if it’s good to eat (from a cow’s perspective).

    • July 25, 2014 3:03 pm

      Susan, it’s bent grass, and it’s blooming right now so it looks pretty striking. It all goes down the hatch, and it’s just part of the mix. It makes a nice soft hay, if that’s all there was, I think the cows would not be quite so happy.

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