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How to start mob grazing

Feeding haySo how do you start a mob grazing operation from scratch?  Say you've got an old potato field that keeps eroding into the creek every year, and you've decided to turn it into pasture to preserve (and build) topsoil.  How do you make that pasture happen, and what do you want it to look like?

Instead of spreading a lot of grass seed, Greg Judy recommends starting with hay.  If you unroll a lot of hay bales into the proto-pasture in the winter and graze your livestock there (even though there's really nothing to graze on), the hay will naturally seed the pasture, and will also add a bit of starter biomass when livestock trample some into the soil.  You'll need to keep feeding your animals for the first year --- this is worth it because you're building your soil every time the livestock pass through.

In the second year, you can finally plant some clover seeds, focusing on fall planting when the baby clover won't be competing much with weeds.  Unlike Voisin grazing (which believes more clover is always better), Greg Judy recommends aiming for only 30% legumes since too much high nitrogen clover is bad for beef cows.

Free choice mineralsMeanwhile, start feeding your animals free choice minerals in the summer, with each type of nutrient in its own compartment.  The livestock will only eat what's deficient in the soil, and since about 70% of the minerals will pass right through them, you'll be correcting soil nutrient imbalances at the same time you're making your livestock healthier.  Greg Judy noticed that, after three years of mob grazing, his animals are now eating only a quarter as much mineral as they used to, and they don't touch any of the minerals at all when grazing on his highest quality soil.

As your pasture grows, don't worry if you start to see plants you're not familiar with.  If your recovery period is long enough, warm season perennials like indian grass, big bluestem, and gama grass will spring up --- these are great for summer grazing as long as you make sure to give them a long rest period.  Meanwhile, don't worry about a few "weeds" --- Greg Judy believes that giant ragweed pumps minerals from deep in the soil, which is why his cows love it.  (They like tree leaves for the same reason.)  A well-managed pasture will become more diverse and more like a native prairie every year.



99 cent pasture ebookThis post is part of our Mob Grazing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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How would a cow detect which minerals it's missing from it's diet?

Wouldn't that e.g. require symptoms that are closely correlated to a single mineral?

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jan 30 18:58:54 2012
I would think it would be as simple as the mineral tasting good, then stopping tasting good when their bodies didn't crave it any more. I don't know much about it, but I assume that's the same reason pregnant women get crazy cravings --- because they suddenly need certain nutrients.
Comment by anna Mon Jan 30 19:38:48 2012

I guess I can see that working for carbohydrates w.r.t. blood sugar levels.

But most minerals we only need in relatively low quantities. And there are several deficiency conditions (like iron deficiency) where we don't seem to have a reflex to eat certain foods.

Of course I'm not a biologist, so I could be talking out of my ass right now. :-) It would be awesome if we could really sense our needs so accurately.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jan 30 20:58:54 2012
I profess to be a biologist, but I'm not that kind of biologist, so I'm pretty much talking out of my ass too. :-) Maybe someone who knows more about physiology will chime in (doc?)
Comment by anna Tue Jan 31 10:17:02 2012