What is mob grazing and what are its benefits?
Mob grazing is a more intensive form of rotational grazing. It is the practice of grazing large herds of cattle on smaller areas of pasture for short periods of time. This can sometimes be for a day or less. The herd is moved regularly and the pasture is left to recover for a prolonged period. For example, 200 cattle may graze one acre for eight hours before moving onto new pasture. Then they won’t revisit that area for 60 days or more.
Many believe this technique has multiple benefits from improved soil health and better quality pasture to longer grazing seasons and lower inputs. Cattle are easier to move too as they are often ready for greener, fresher pasture and follow the farmer readily. Some farmers who use mob grazing no longer buy fertiliser which is a huge cost saving. The soil is rich in nutrients from cattle dung and earthworm densities can be incredibly high, aerating the soil and improving water absorption.
What are the pros and cons of mob grazing?
Once the system is in place, farmers can save considerably in terms of time and money. The outdoor grazing period can lengthen, thus reducing indoor housing costs. Fertiliser use can be reduced or stopped altogether. Moving the cattle as one big herd, rather than in smaller groups, allows for the farmer to check for lameness regularly and all in one go.
Some farmers find that forage production increases two-to-four-fold following mob grazing. Moreover, pasture diversity is increases. This is because the grasses are heavily grazed and trodden in equal measure and the soil is left enriched with urine and faeces. The key to improved pasture is the prolonged rest period between grazing.
Mob grazing doesn’t need a lot of infrastructure. However, electric fencing is a must to divide fields up into smaller sections, so there may be an investment here. Farmers say that they use much less machinery using mob grazing on their farms thus saving money on fuel and repairs.
Farmers who already employ the technique, say that there is a certain amount of trial and error to find the best mob grazing strategy for your particular farm. Some farmers find that their they need to move their cattle at once a day, others leave them for two days or more.
Initially, it may be time consuming moving a large herd of cattle. However, once cattle are accumstomed to the routine and realise that they are being moved onto better pasture, they will move easily.
Setting up the fields in the first place can also take time. Using electric fencing to break up the fields into sections requires planning, but once complete, you don’t have to repeat it. If you are moving the fences to save buying more, it starts to get easier once you are used to the cycle. However, that is something to consider.
At first you will have to use back fences to prevent cattle from going back and grazing the area they’ve just grazed. But farmers report it won’t take long before the cattle refuse to go back to the area they were in the day before.
There is a chance you could completely destroy your pasture if you allow your herd too much time in a confined area. This not only wreaks havoc on your grass and hampers recovery, but can also cause problems with animal performance. So, a big tip is to avoid overgrazing. Again, this may also be some trial and error to get this to work.
If you graze too soon, you risk reducing plant biodiversity and ultimately nutrition and soil health. Allow plenty of recovery time for your pasture. Make sure all species of plants have grown back before re-grazing an area.
What does the research say?
Supporters of mob grazing explain that it is a more natural process of grazing cattle. In the wild, bovines such as bison, would graze in their hundreds working their way across the grasslands and not coming back to the same spot for months or even years. This gives the grass more time to recover. It grows much longer than continuously grazed pasture and therefore is more nutritious and robust.
Some studies suggest that mob grazing has the potential to improve soil carbon content. However, other scientific research has found no difference in soil carbon between conventionally grazed and mob grazed pasture. The same research also found that soil compaction was increased, moisture decreased, and soil structure affected in mob grazed fields. However, the research finds soil organic matter improves, along with nitrogen content.
Where has it worked?
Sometimes it is down to the climate in which the farm resides. A study in the northeastern US, found that with its temperate climate and cool seasons, rotational grazing on grass-legume pastures was better than mob grazing in terms of nutritive value of the forage.
Case studies reviewing mob grazing in the UK have revealed the benefits of the system. Tom Chapman farms 300 head of cattle in Hertfordshire and has seen huge improvements since using mob grazing. His soil has improved with its organic content rising from 3.5% to 10%. He has reduced on-farm costs due to an extended grazing period; reduced inputs; and lower vet bills.
As with all things new, mob grazing will need a bit of trial and error to determine the best strategy. But it may be a technique that proves hugely beneficial for your farm.
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