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Mob Grazing Single Cow-Calf unit- insane?

 
Nick Segner
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Hi all!

So I've got one I need some help on. We have 5 of our 10 acres that we're gonna give a rest from haying this year.. And we want to bring the neighbors' Jersey mama and 2 year old "calf" over to work some magic on our land via mob grazing, ideally. Now, we're complete novices to cattle and mob grazing.

So I did some online research and came up with a mob grazing ratio of having 200,000 lbs of animal on each acre, moved at least daily. Say those two cows of his weigh approx 1800 lbs. That would mean they would have to be kept on 0.009 acres. Say what?! Yeah I did my math again, a different way: for each square foot, there should be 4.5914 lbs of cow occupying it.. Math checks out and that's about 400 ft2 either way you slice it which is a 20x20 area. Tiny.

So, questions: is it realistic (or desirable) to confine these two animals in such a small area? Or would I have to modify our mob grazing scenario to give these animals some more room? (Such as keeping them on twice as much area for 2 days instead of just one, or 4x the area for 4 days?)..

In any event, they're gonna come over twice daily to retrieve the cows for milking, so they'll only be in there for the daylight hours. We're going to be using electronet or just some electric line for their fencing..

What think ye, Permies?


 
Bryant RedHawk
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I don't think you can use just two animals to "mob graze", as you noted, the area required is really too small for it to work as designed.

The smallest number of animals I've ever heard of being used to mob graze is ten. The main issue is the number of hooves (soil disturbance) and quantity of manure (fertilizer) available in a 24 hour period.

The whole concept of mob grazing is to mimic what used to happen to the Great Plains when the Tatanka (Bison) came through.
 
Kelly Smith
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imo - to mob graze 2 cows like you are describing, you would have to move them more often that once daily.

we have grazed a cow/calf pair (our diary cow and her calf) in small paddock, moved daily.
our issue was - to make the paddock big enough to do daily moves, gave the cows to much room and didnt give me the desired disturbance or manure distribution that i wanted


I think there is a minimum that you need, and i would agree 10 is a good number.

you could also look at smaller ruminants (sheep/goats) as they may be mob-able.

good luck and let us know how it works out.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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It Depends.

Are these open pasture cattle or have they done time in mild confinement [in a pen or barn or whatnot]?

20x20 isn't a wide open pasture, but it's not exactly physically cramped quarters either.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Kelly Smith wrote:

you could also look at smaller ruminants (sheep/goats) as they may be mob-able.



In what way does a sheep (200 lbs) emulate a bison (1100 -2000 lbs) in this situation where trampling is supposed to be a large component of the mob grazing system?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Hau Tyler, I've seen mob grazing done with sheep and also goats. While it would seem that these animals don't have the ability to do this function, they actually do a pretty good job of tearing up the surface soil.
 
Nick Segner
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Thanks guys- this is what I love about permies-quick responses!

Yes, Bryant- I understand that with two cows it's not really "mob grazing" and the ability to mimic the beneficial effect that the Bison had will be limited.. But we are trying to do the best we can for our field with the animals we have available to us. Just those two jerseys. I mean theres a horse or three from the neighborbood I can add into the mix, but I was advised against that..

Kelly- So, we're gonna have that whole 5 acres fenced (3/4's is already field fence with double stranded barbed wire and the other side we will run a line or two of electro-line..) There will be heavy traffic to the gate to the neighbors but I imagine the moving part will be fairly easy.. They're spoiled by the neighbors and will come for mention of grain.

Kyrt- They're always on pasture (overgrazed).. They are confined periodically to approx 60x60 "diet pens" along with the horse (the one on the diet). They havent done time in very small areas tho..



 
Tyler Ludens
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Hau Tyler, I've seen mob grazing done with sheep and also goats. While it would seem that these animals don't have the ability to do this function, they actually do a pretty good job of tearing up the surface soil.


To me it doesn't square with what mob-grazing proponents claim, that cows on grass mimic the soil-building activity of bison on prairie. Maybe there is some other benefit to mob-grazing sheep, which does not mimic huge herds of huge animals? I just don't see how animals so different from bison can be claimed to have the same effect as bison.

Puzzling.

 
Eric Thompson
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Ha! You can mob graze just having a 30' rope around mama's neck and moving the anchor!
 
Nick Segner
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Hah! I guess what we'll have to do will be something less intensive than "mob grazing" as we don't have the animal poundage necessary.. Short of keeping cows on dog runs lol!
 
S Bengi
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Mob Grazing and pasture rotation are not the same thing, they are however similar.
Whenever someone practices animal husbandry it is best practice to give each pasture at least 30days of rest.
Which naturally mean that you need to create st least 30 'tiny' pastures, that really should only be used for 1 day at most.
30 days of rest allow the grass to recover alot, and also lowers the chances of the animals being contaminated/infected with it's own feces.
 
Nick Segner
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Ok, now we're getting somewhere.. So I need to explain something about our climate: we have no summer rain. We'll rotate the neighbors cows through the 5 acres once, twice and then we might hit grass's summer dormancy here in the "rainshadow" of the Olympic Mountains. At that point, we're done until fall, or possibly the next spring.

I'll keep in mind the 30+ days of rest and the other guiding priniciple I'd heard - not letting the grass to be grazed below 4-6" level.
 
Wes Hunter
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I wouldn't get too caught up in whether what you're proposing is "mob grazing" or not. Yes, you could probably get close to mimicking the bison/trample effect with rapid frequent moving of appropriately small paddocks, but that would be labor-intensive to the point of absurdity. Simple daily or twice-daily rotation is still going to be incredibly beneficial, even if you don't get all the plant trampling. Your best bet is to just cross fence a section with hot wire (single strand), and adjust as indicated.

Is there too much remaining forage? Make the next paddock smaller. Did they graze the paddock down too far? Make the next one larger. It's really quite simple, and fudging it here and there isn't the end of the world.
 
Wes Hunter
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Also, and this bears repeating, let the forage dictate your cattle movement, not numbers. Don't move the animals back into paddock A just because they were there 29 days ago. How often and how frequently they graze a particular paddock will change season to season and year to year.

For what it's worth, Greg Judy figures on grazing a particular paddock only two to three times a year. That includes the dormant season.
 
Timothy Markus
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I don't think it's insane at all and I think you'll see benefits. While you may not get the same impact as with more animals, the difference may not be that much, but you may find you lack the competitive eating found with mob grazing more animals. There are some very valid reasons for intensively managing the grazing of however many animals you have. Using 400 square foot daily sections, you can expect not to have them back onto the same ground where you first grazed them, though that may not be the best idea. A 21-30 day minimum rest period is a good idea, but re-grazing after the grass has recovered will likely yield a higher protein than another paddock that is mature grass. The higher protein will help with milk production.

I think the greatest benefit of mob grazing isn't the animal impact on the soil, but the fact that there isn't a second bite. The grass is grazed once and then allowed to recover. Some graziers chase after the highest protein grasses, some will only graze when the grass is mature. Either way, the plant is able to first store up energy to recover and then is allowed to recover before being grazed again. The hardest thing on plants is getting grazed, put a lot of energy into growing, then getting grazed again before it can store more energy. If you keep your cow/calf moving, you'll see this benefit. I think that this is where the benefits of any number or size of ruminant can stack up against the bison. The way the bison moved, they kept going forward and didn't backtrack to eat the newly re-grown vegetation.

You'll also have even distribution of manure and urine, provide stimulation to the plants from the grazing and saliva, see hoof impact that allows air and water to infiltrate the soil, incredible numbers of organisms from the cow's gut, etc. I think you can get a similar animal impact if you make your paddocks small enough, but with only a cow/calf, you may need to give even smaller areas and move more frequently.

As was mentioned, you shouldn't pick a paddock size, but give an appropriate amount. Wes outlines how to do that. The water you give the cows will end up on the pasture and you may find you get some regrowth even in the dry periods. You can also use your management to promote some plants. If you graze and then re-graze after a few days, you can stunt the taller, faster growing grasses and favour clovers and other legumes which don't grow as tall but provide more protein. When grazing more mature paddocks, you may be better off just grazing off the top third of the plant and trying to knock down the bottom two-thirds.

In short, I think you'll see most of the benefits of mob grazing, even if not all of them. The real question is is it worth it to commit the time to moving a single pair or, given the amount of pasture you have, should you add another cow or two (maybe a heifer or steer for beer) or some sheep. It will take you as long to care for a single pair as it would to care for a dozen.

Let us know how it goes.
 
Kelly Smith
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Kelly Smith wrote:

you could also look at smaller ruminants (sheep/goats) as they may be mob-able.



In what way does a sheep (200 lbs) emulate a bison (1100 -2000 lbs) in this situation where trampling is supposed to be a large component of the mob grazing system?


i think you are looking at it the wrong way.
its more like what can 10 sheep (200lbs) do that 1 bison (2000lbs) cant do. they can provide all of the mob services of a big herd, but in a smaller package, as the context here is mob grazing a micro paddock. (20x20ft area)

edited to add a link to a field thats been mob grazed by sheep, for reference: http://www.permies.com/t/39134/goats/critters/mob-grazing-sheep-aftermath
 
Travis Johnson
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I think everyone is forgetting the golden rule here of grazing...any grazing.

If you want to absolutely destroy a pasture, put too few animals on too big of a pasture.

This rule applies no matter how big or small of an area you are talking because its proportionate.

I understand what you are trying to do, but I honestly think you would be better to hay more of your land instead of letting it lay fallow, half the size of your pasture for the cow/calf pair, and then perhaps over the winter see if you can gather up livestock from friends...ideally multi-species...and graze a bigger part of your hay field next year instead.
 
Angela Aragon
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Gabe Brown tells his audiences that you can achieve the desired effect of his version of mob grazing (1/3 eaten - 2/3 mashed down) with just one cow. It is a matter of timing and amount of space allowed. According to him, the key is not how small the paddock is, rather it is that the animal(s) have and overabundance of diverse food to eat relative to the amount of time they are left in there.
 
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