Guide to Mob Grazing for Cattle
In response to the steadily increasing demand for healthier, more humanely-raised livestock, an emerging and innovative trend gaining traction across the agricultural community is mob grazing. While the concept of maintaining larger herds of cattle in small areas may sound detrimental to pasture maintenance, mob grazing is proving to be a cost-effective and efficient system that results in improved pasture health.
What Is Mob Grazing?
Developed in South Africa by grazing expert Allan Savory, mob grazing involves using high concentrations of cattle per acre in a short time period. This is followed by an extended period, up to a year or more, of rest and recovery for the pasture before it’s grazed again. Also known as ultra-high-density grazing, this method utilizes stocking densities between 100,000 to 500,000 pounds or more of body weight per acre. The number of cattle in a mob grazing can range from 250 to 500 cows or more per acre.
Benefits of Mob Grazing
By mob-grazing cattle, farmers can realize the following benefits:
- It reduces competition for grass between cattle by allowing them to graze one area before moving on to the next. This mitigates the risk of overgrazing certain parts, allowing stronger plants to grow and weaker ones to naturally thin out. A collaborative project between the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Penn State concluded that ultra-high stocking density grazing enables more mature forage for the herd as compared to a conventional dairy system.
- The concentration of cattle in a restricted area allows for more evenly distributed waste, improving soil fertility.
- Water can more easily penetrate deep into the soil.
- Since they are grazing in a smaller area, the cattle have no choice but to eat the plants in their path. Those plants that go uneaten are naturally trampled on, becoming organic matter for the soil.
- There is better manure and urine distribution, reducing the need for additional fertilizer purchases.
- The healthier soil produces higher nutrient plants that are beneficial to the cattle.
- Producers won’t need high stocking densities and only need to rotate the cattle once a day.
- No additional equipment or costly weed control measures are necessary to create healthier fields.
- Owners have improved oversight of the herd since they are seen up close daily without the need to drive around a large field.
How Mob Grazing Differs From Rotational Grazing
While mob grazing and rotational grazing are both techniques that are used to manage livestock, they accomplish different things.
Mob grazing involves a large herd of animals that can graze freely over a larger-than-normal area for a short period of time. Conversely, rotational grazing maximizes pasture usage by strategically moving animals between carefully fenced areas to prevent them from overgrazing in one area and allowing it to regenerate.
Rotational grazing focuses more on efficiently utilizing available space. But mob grazing works best for stimulating growth in otherwise slower-growing areas. Therefore, it’s important to consider which method would be most beneficial for your land before diving into either system.
Getting Started With Mob Grazing
Mob grazing can be very rewarding in terms of animal health and improved pasture. But it also requires planning and dedication. Having a plan for when and how often to move animals is key; it’s also important to determine how that plan fits into your overall pasture rotation strategy. The logistics involved need to be worked through before starting this high-density grazing system so that you are sure of what works best for your land and animals.
The first step in the mob grazing system is dividing the land into multiple areas where the herd can be easily moved throughout the day. Factor in portable fencing and water sources, as well as stocking density.
Since plant diversity is key to a successful mob grazing system, have a variety of plants in the mix to accommodate the herd’s preferred grazing options. As the plants germinate and grow throughout the year, this will ensure that the cattle are receiving many different nutrients.
When choosing how much time to rest your land between grazing sessions, consider the following factors:
- How many heads of mob grazing cattle
- The pasture’s size and type
- Forage options
- The type of livestock
Grazing sessions usually operate on a rotational schedule of 45 to 120 days, though this could run longer depending on the size of the land area.
Guidelines For Efficient Mob Grazing
With any agricultural practice, proper guidelines and organization are crucial to success. The University of Nebraska Extension educator Terry Gompert recommends the following guidelines when considering mob grazing.
- Avoid overgrazing by striving for 60% livestock plant utilization with 40% plant litter.
- Carefully monitor herd performance to ensure weight gain and maintain their conditioning.
- Consider combining herds to increase density. Combining herds with a neighbor will enable land and labor sharing.
- Plan ahead to determine where the herd will be grazing. Also, consider what you should stockpile for fall and winter grazing.
- Create a temporary lane using an electric fence to allow access to water. Move the lane for each rotation.
- Install back fences to prevent the herd from returning to re-graze where they came from.
- When you see sufficient ground litter, move the cattle to a new area.
- Ensure all plants fully recover before any cattle graze the land again.
Key Takeaways for Implementing Mob Grazing
High-density grazing techniques continue to gain popularity for their cost-effectiveness and positive impacts on both the land areas and livestock. When done correctly, such grazing systems improve pasture health and increase herd productivity since the animals are able to graze areas evenly. In addition, cattle are less stressed, leading to better overall health and increased milk and beef production. With proper planning and execution, mob grazing can be an excellent tool for improving your operation.
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