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mob grazing with sheep - the aftermath!

 
Burra Maluca
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My friend Adeline, who I've been trying to sweet-talk into joining permies for ages, recently posted this sequence of photos on her facebook page. So naturally I grovelled a bit until she relented and let me share them with you guys...

OK so it's a funny thing to post, but I thought those of you with pasture/permie tendencies would be interested in what the sheep leave behind after a mob stock rotation grazing our top fields. This is all over the field and looks as if it has been applied by machine. What amazes me is what happens as it re-grows. Watch this space.




1 week on: the muck is still there, there is a fuzz of grass and the clover is starting to flower again. The clover in ungrazed fields flowered ages ago and has gone to seed now.




A fortnight from when it was shut up and we have in flower red and white clover, birdsfoot trefoil, buttercups, cats ears and more mushrooms than I know what to do with, oh yes, and the grass is growing too. And the magic is starting to happen. What happened to all that muck

My


Much stronger, greener growth on the urine patches. The bits that get heavy traffic by the gates are almost all ryegrass and starting to head now. To keep an old sward like this in condition, I am convinced conventional sward height recommendations are rubbish - if low-growing species aren't cropped off a lot shorter, you get a lot of dead in the sward.




Ready to put the lambs back on it now




The appreciative recipients




About 3 weeks and 3 days from taking the sheep off. Magic, isn't it?
 
Burra Maluca
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If anyone has any questions, please ask and I'll go and grovel some more to her...
 
Burra Maluca
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Someone asked me how long the pasture was grazed before taking the sheep off. Here's the answer I got.

How long we graze them is like how long is a piece of string. I would have to check how big this field is, but it would be about 8 acres I think and the group was on it was about 280 ewes and their lambs, so nearly 600 head, so that is where all the poop came from, they were on that field for about 5 days and then the one next door aswell for another 5 days or so and then moved on. Now the ram lambs are on it, there are 220 of them and they are failing to dent it right now so they will be on it for a lot longer!

It's done the ewes and lambs for 5 days to a week, every 2/3 weeks through spring/summer and it looks fab on that. But it also depends on what sort of a grass growing year it is, this year has been a good one. You couldn't do it quite the same if it was dry, you'd get a desert.
 
Cj Sloane
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I have a question. The 2 sheep grazing the re-grown field doesn't look very "mob" like. Is the picture deceptive? Does she have a more mob like pic?
 
bob day
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please correct me if i'm wrong, but with just the rams on it "failing to make a dent in it" that would not really be mob grazing as the rams get to pick and choose what they will or won't eat. To my understanding 5 days is about the max for a mob effect, as after that more compaction and other damage is done, and some mobs leave less green but lots more manure etc (pics of joel salatin come to mind), and that famous statement allan savory made about not being able to find a blade of grass anywhere, but thousands of sheep were able to find forage, so if that is explained by the sheep eating roots of the grasses, how then does the land come back so well? some of the results around mobs are starting to sound like the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

Even though we only teach science, we actually see (and count on) purple miracles.
 
Burra Maluca
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Bob, as I understand it the 220 ram lambs are on it now and the grass is holding up well, so at the moment it's not so much of a mob effect.

Before that there were 600 ewes and lambs for five to seven days at a time every 2 to 3 weeks over the summer.

CJ - I'll ask her.
 
bob day
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If you've seen some of the photos of salatins land, some of them look like a mud pit after the cattle are moved off, which is probably the difference between simple rotational grazing and true mob grazing. I have only slender understandings of what to use when, but i would guess her technique is probably closer to rotational grazing, certainly with the rams onle, and if she were sending in other animals to break pest cycles it would be sequential, or secesional grazing?


 
Cj Sloane
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Burra Maluca wrote:..here were 600 ewes and lambs for five to seven days at a time every 2 to 3 weeks over the summer.

That sounds more live a mob. Pics of that many would be cool.
 
Eva Taylor
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bob brings up a point that needs clarification- what Salatin is doing is successional grazing I believe, following cows with chickens, rabbits with chickens. the idea being that each successive animal in the chain would eat different things out of the preceding animals poo as well as pasture. When you mob graze I was understanding it to be grazing a large number of animals for a short time period to essentially mow the grass down. this encourages root die back returning nutrient and air space to the soil along with the manure, as well as encouraging new growth. Since we are mimicking nature to increase efficiency of land use, the thought of taking even a part of a pasture down to mudd that wasn't needing to be cleared on purpose would be counter productive. I haven't seen geoff lawton leaving behind bare patches of land with mob grazing, only with successional grazing ending with chickens when he was clearing land to start food forests. I think there is no time limit or perfect number of animals with mob grazing, just that you have enough to mow the grass down within a few days to a week and that you move the animals when the grass has been mowed down. Then not returning the animals to the same spot until it has recovered. This is just one way to graze and only works if you have enough fencing on hand. I still feel like 220 animals on 8 acres is mobish since in the wild 6-8 deer per square kilometer is what's considered healthy and normal and we are patterning after that example-6-8 deer mob grazing a one square kilometer of land. Not sure how biologists come up with that number but there it is...
I'm loving the successional pics of this property! Great job getting your friend to share pics Burra!
 
bob day
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Like i said, i'm not an expert, just reporting back some of the pictures i've seen and things i've heard, perhaps the muddy paddock joel diplays was part of a repair job, i believe he finished that particular succession with pigs, and then of course afterward the pics of the beautiful lush pasture. Perhaps mob grazing's primary application is repair jobs on weedy underused pasture where that heavy animal pressure is necessary to get things going again. Without the mob around and a shortage of available grass there is no incentive to eat the less desirable tougher plants, and yet those are exactly the plants that need to be cut and stimulated into regrowth. The pasture shown above did not look especially weedy, and while 600 sheep on 8 acres seems like a lot more than would be natural (according to statistics), those statistics do not represent a mob in nature. (think buffalo as far as the eye can see)

Alan savory, perhaps the first person to identify and pursue this effect to restore grasslands in Africa talks about making a wager with the people with him and said he would pay 5 pounds if anyone could find a blade of grass, and yet he had thousands of sheep that somehow managed to survive, and their presence helped to return that land to productivity

mob grazing as i understand it mimics a herd of buffalo coming onto an area bunched together so there is little room to move, they don't stay long, but when they go there is total disruption, land trampled and imprinted and buried in poo and pee, not simply cutting the grass and leaving some fertilizer as in rotational grazing. cycles in between would be longer, and perhaps there are fine points to when and how it should be used, with conventional rotational grazing being the norm. And you're right, Geoff does not practice mob grazing except perhaps to clear a patch prepping for something else-crops or food forest or whatever

All we are talking about is a definition, I assume both techniques are valuable in the right time and place.
 
Nicholas Mason
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Eva Taylor wrote: I still feel like 220 animals on 8 acres is mobish since in the wild 6-8 deer per square kilometer is what's considered healthy and normal and we are patterning after that example-6-8 deer mob grazing a one square kilometer of land. Not sure how biologists come up with that number but there it is...


I don't think that deer really count as a mob grazing animal. They are more of a woodland animal that spend a lot of time solitary. Where as things like buffalo and elk run in huge herds. And like the open grass land areas a bit more.
(elk can spend alot of time in woodland as well but like the meadow up there.)


I have been researching the mob grazing such alot lately as I am trying to mange the property I a on to the best of my ability. A recent podcast that was interviewing Allen Savory said that you should move your animals at least every three days and have a rest period of sixty to ninety days. Where some other people in this space are saying move daily. If I remember right Geoff Lawton moves his cows into a new pasture in the morning, then the lane way at night.
I sometimes fail on both sides of this. Leaving animals in a pasture for up to a week or more, and my pastures are still improving. So I don't know where the to long is really too long. I think that three days is like 90% improvement ability and then after that the next amount of days is like 50% improvement ability and then it most likely goes into compaction.
 
Sue Rine
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It takes about four days for the new shoot at the base of the grass to appear so grazing any one paddock for longer than four days risks damaging that new shoot and reducing the overall production of the pasture. Leaving the pasture for 6-7 weeks helps to break the parasite cycle but sometimes of year it's not possible to wait that long before putting the animals back on. The stage of growth that Adeline put her lambs in the paddock is ideal for them as they do well on relatively short, fresh grass and don't grow so well when the pasture gets towards the seeding stage.
 
Michael Cox
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Nicholas Mason wrote:0900004
~/I don't think that deer really count as a mob grazing animal. They are more of a woodland animal that spend a lot of time solitary. Where as things like buffalo and elk run in huge herds. And like the open grass land areas a bit more.
(elk can spend alot of time in woodland as well but like the meadow up there.)


Deer in some environments have been shown to develop herding environments when their apex predators are reintroduced. I'm specifically thinking about the reintroduction of wolves to yellowstone in America. Wolves changed deer browsing behaviour away from spread out browsing in the valley bottoms, to herd behaviours higher up the hillsides and in the shelter of trees.

Deer behaviour as we observe it now is influenced substantially by the impact we have had on their predators.
 
Kirk Schonfeldt
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Thanks for sharing the photos! My understanding is that the terms are relative and not strictly defined, but I think of mob grazing often being on pasture of a fairly mature state, with very tightly packed large ruminants (typically cattle) for very brief periods (at least daily moves), where never more than the top 1/2 of the plant is eaten, and much of it is trampled. I probably got this impression from Greg Judy and his methods with stocker cattle and rapid soil improvement (and skyrocketing SOM). Any method of rotational grazing is a vast improvement over continuous grazing.

Cheers!
 
Nicholas Mason
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Sue Rine wrote:It takes about four days for the new shoot at the base of the grass to appear so grazing any one paddock for longer than four days risks damaging that new shoot and reducing the overall production of the pasture.

That interesting. Makes a lot of sense. I tried to give you a thumbs up but the computer wasn't letting me.
 
Burra Maluca
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Well I haven't bribed her well enough to join in herself yet, but Adeline did send me a bit more info.

Plus this photo, just for you CJ!

220 ewes clearing up 1.74 ha of ground after young cattle. Mob stocking is highly intensive rotational grazing - a lot of heads on for a very short time.




I also asked her about the 'old sward' she mentioned in the initial series of photos.

We don't have much true ancient pasture, because it was all ploughed up in the 1940's. Most of it so unsuited to anything else but grazing that it hasn't been ploughed since. Having said that, during the war they even grew potatoes on our top ground. This field is an old orchard, ridge and furrow ploughed which makes it foul to do anything mechanical with it. The one up the top where the series of photos is from must have had clover planted on it at some time I suppose because it's name on the old maps from the 1840s is 'big clover field'. When bored at some point I did a review of broadleaved species growing on the farm - currently it's running at a few over 250.


Adeline has also been working on breeding sheep to need far less medication. Here's a link to a page on her website for anyone interested (Go on - ask her stuff. She's bound to relent eventually and join in....History of the Sheep Flock at Wilden Farm
 
Cj Sloane
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Burra Maluca wrote:
Plus this photo, just for you CJ!


Thanks! That actually doesn't look like mob grazing. The result was good, but I think for true mob grazing they've got to be bunched up much tighter. Maybe someone with more experience can chime in.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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The whole idea of mob grazing is to replicate the herd grazing patterns of the high plains. ie: the thousands of bison, stopping to feed on the high plains of USA, they would not be still, just moving slowly for a few hours to feed then move on, returning to that patch the next year. In mob grazing, you want a large number of animals (in this case 600 sheep, which would really fit well on 2 acres or less for one day) on a small plot for just long enough to mow the grass to half height, the dung and urine get trampled into the soil and the mob is moved to the next pasture, this would occur at a maximum of one move per day, two or three moves every day would be even better. Then the field is not grazed again for at least two months which allows everything to be incorporated into the soil and the plants grow back lush ready to be grazed again.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Let's not go into details, i just need some rough calculation - how much pasture land would i need if i would graze it for one day with 6-8 sheeps?
Thanks in advance!
 
Andy Reed
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The sooner you get the animals off the pasture, the faster it will grow back. Any longer then 36hrs will reduce the growth for the next round, the longer you stay there the slower the regrowth. I used to put 400 dairy cows in 5 acres for <12hrs then milk and then into a new paddock, back again in 20-35 days. When growth is slower I gave them less area and fed silage, extending the rest period to allow the grass to grow back to the desired height.

That is how most grass based dairy farms operate, maximising grass growth and pasture quality for the highest milk yield.

From what I understand of Alan Savory's methods they have no value on healthy pastures, as a restoration tool for degraded landscapes I think the value comes from corralling them together at night, concentrating their dung in a key area on the landscape.

Aljaz you will need 300m2 (rough calculation no details )
 
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