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Recovery period and trampling define mob grazing

Grazing tall grassSo how does mob grazing differ from management intensive grazing?  The biggest differences are how long you let the plants grow back after being grazed (the recovery period) and the intentional trampling of some grass.

When he was following the management intensive system, Greg Judy used to rotate his animals so quickly that they nibbled on the same plots of land eight times per year, but now he's cut back to five annual rotations.  Rather than striving to keep the grass short, he lets the plants grow up to what he calls the boot stage, in which each plant has three to four leaves and is developing a seed head (although the head is not yet visible.)  He notes that waiting to graze until the boot stage helps the pasture grow 40% more biomass compared to faster rotations.

In order to achieve these long recovery periods without cutting back the number of animals on his farm, Greg combines his herds together and manages all twelve of his farms as one unit.  Even though that means he sometimes has to drive cattle a couple of miles down the road to a new farm, the system pays off by giving his pastures more time to recover between grazing episodes.

TramplingThe second factor that differentiates mob grazing from management intensive grazing is trampling.  Every time Greg turns his cows into a new plot of land, he aims for them to eat only 60% of the grass.  Another 30% is trampled into the ground, with the final 10% left standing to provide a wind break and preserve moisture and wildlife habitat.

Again, Greg's method of ensuring that a lot of the grass gets trampled involves bunching animals up --- a high stocking density (lots of cows in the same small paddock) inevitably mash down a lot of grass.  Waiting to turn the cows onto pasture until plants are mature also helps since the older grass will break rather than springing back once trampled.

Trampled grass in a pasture may seem wasteful, but is actually similar to adding compost and mulch to your garden.  Dead grass left behind on the soil surface feeds microorganisms (which in turn feed the pasture plants), and the organic matter added to the soil holds moisture and maintains a healthy soil food web.  "For every grass blade you trample," Greg Judy says, "You'll get two back."



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





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