How regenerative mob grazing can improve pasture health.
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
Mob grazing is a term used to describe ultra-high density grazing. Another way to think about this is working to mimic the grazing of wild herds. This means, many animals, relatively close together, on a small piece of land, for a short duration of time. Wild herds graze together this way to keep away from predators and keep moving as they're eating. In the process they cut down the grasses, leave plant matter and waste on that area.
The land the herd leaves behind has been eaten down but mostly just the top of the plant which lets the plant recover. and establish deeper roots. This all protects and builds the soil they leave behind.
What mob grazing?
Mob grazing is a term that was coined during a University of Nebraska grazing tour. According to Doug Peterson, who is a part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, during one of these tours someone referred to the ultra-high density grazing as mob grazing and it stuck.
Mob grazing is not a new concept, but is part of a larger movement towards regenerative agriculture practices. It has been studied by agriculturalists for many years in many different types of agricultural practices, most recently in cattle. The key to mob grazing is multiple moves in one day and watching the performance of the land in each area and the health of your livestock as well. It's important to track which areas have been recently grazed and wait to graze there until the land has had time to break down the matter left behind and grow back.
How do you get started?
Divide your grazing land into multiple areas where you can easily move the herd along throughout the day. The longer you rest an area the better results you'll see. This is called ultra-high stock density. Portable fencing and water sources will also need to be factored in as well as stocking density.
What is stocking density?
Stocking density is determined by the animal pounds per acre. Let's use the example of 100 head of cattle each weighing 1,000 pounds on 1 acre of land. That would be 100,000 pounds. So, on half an acre the same amount of cows would be 200,000. Your stocking density depends on the amount of land you have and how many head in your herd.
How long should you rest between grazings?
How long do you rest your land between grazing? It depends on how many head, how much land, what type of livestock what type of pasture, what type of forage you have, etc. Generally you have a 45-120 day rotation but that could be longer if you have more land.
Soil and plant health to boost cow health
Plant diversity is another key aspect of this type of grazing. Cows will eat their favorite plants as they graze. (I mean, don't we all do this?) As plants go through these grazing cycles they're aren't eaten down and they are allowed to go through their life cycle which produces healthier plants and pastures. Planting a diverse range of plants in your mix will accommodate these favorite grazing options for your cows. The plants will also germinate and grow in different stages of the year. Some start early and others are available later. This gives diversity in the nutrients the cows are taking in as well. If this sounds like a recipe for healthy happy cows and pasture, you're right.
Mob grazing is an excellent way to help restore the health of depleted soils and is a critical aspect of regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture utilizes various different agricultural and ecological practices, with a focus on minimal soil impact and extensive practice of composting. At it's core it's a diverse set of practices that work to prioritize soil health. These practices include permaculture and organic practices, including low-till or no-till, the use of cover crops and crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters, pasture cropping and the integration of grazing livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, etc). These approaches work together to to increase food production, improve yields and farmer revenues, reduced need for synthetic inputs, such as herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers and improvements to topsoil health. Learn more about regenerative agriculture.
Reduce costs with regenerative grazing
There are some costs associated a change over to this type of grazing which I talk about a little later but you will see a reduction in costs specifically for cattle. For one you don't have to fertilize and reseed the pasture each year. Secondly, minerals and feed are supported by the land. Not to mention, the lifecycle of parasites and flies is diminished if not broken.
Regenerative for more than just cattle
You can use this style grazing for any herd livestock. It has been studied over the years with varied degrees of success.
Goats love weeds and will clean them up along with grass. You can mob graze your goats in an area for a few hours and then move them.
I'm going to be honest, sheep are a little bit tougher to bring over to this type of grazing. They need a higher protein (shorter grass) than some of these other animals so you'll need to take that into account. Goats are easier to fence but it's not impossible for sheep. The area for sheep will need to be larger since they are easily spooked and might stampede. They will also need different fencing like netting or 3 or 4 wires to keep them in. It is recommended to use about 19 to 26 paddocks for intensive sheep grazing. That would mean a rest period of 45-120 days if rotated 2 times a day.
Yep, chickens can be mob grazed too. Think of this like a chicken tractor where you use a mobile chicken shelter to move the flock on a regular basis (varies depending on your flock size and pasture).
Different species will forage for different plants and some eat the whole plant and some are more selective. Grazing them together can be useful for those reasons. Cattle and sheep have classically been grazed together as well as horses and goats.
Tips to get started:
Start small- just try a small area first and see how it does.
Graze pastures in the summer and meadows in the winter
Monitor the livestock and make your plan flexible for what they need
It can be used for conventional or organic systems
Maximize the grazed period and consider supplemental feed if there is less forage than planned.
Plan a rest period
Some resources for further reading: