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Managing animals with mob grazing

Wellfed cowEven though mob grazing's primary focus is on the soil and plants, you don't want to ignore your livestock.  If you're building up poor soil, it won't be able to support as many animals per acre, so pay attention to the oldest and youngest animals to make sure they're healthy.  Cattle shouldn't have a dent on their left side --- that means they're not getting enough to eat.  Healthy cattle, on the other hand, will have a shiny line down the neck that denotes good gland function (and keeps flies away), and will lose their winter coats quickly.  If your cattle don't look healthy, give them more space (or feed them hay if you must.)

Meanwhile, choose your livestock wisely.  Most modern cattle have been bred for size, but you want to select for the ability to thrive on pasture 365 days a year.  Greg Judy had to go back to older varieties of cattle with short legs, big bellies, and an oily streak down the back.  His full-grown bulls clock in at 1050 to 1100 pounds and his cows at 850 to 900 pounds, in contrast to some breeds that mature at 2000 to 2500 pounds.  He culls relentlessly, removing cattle from his herd if they're getting too thin, so his livestock become hardier every year.

Calf on pastureGreg also shifted management patterns to make year-round grazing feasible.  Rather than weaning calves the way most cattle-farmers do, he selects for cows that are smaller, then he gives them lots of forage so that the mothers are able to stay healthy while raising their calves.  He makes sure his cows give birth around the first of April, when the pastures are just starting to pick up speed, which means peak milk production arrives in May when calves are big enough to handle it.

Finally, Greg doesn't worry about parasites.  One of the major benefits of rotational grazing is that you move the animals quickly enough that cattle aren't eating around their own feces, and by the time they come back through, parasites have perished.  That means Greg doesn't even give his herd dewormer --- if the cows get sick, he figures they have bad genes and he culls them.

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

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