Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mob grazing and a walk in the pasture.

On August 9th-11th the Practical Farmers of Iowa hosted several pasture walks focusing on Mob Grazing. Mike, Tharren and I attended the walks in Richmond and Bonaparte, IA.

Photo: The group takes a walk out to a cattle pasture at the beginning of the tour.

Photo: NRCS Grazing Specialist Jess Jackson analyzes the contents of one of the pastures. He discussed that with mob grazing there should be a manure patty in every square yard of the pasture.

Mob grazing, otherwise known as ultra high density grazing, is the practice of stocking 100,000 to 1 million lbs of livestock per 1 acre of land. Animals are moved at least once per day, this depends on the stocking density. Increased density encourages livestock to eat all available forage, including weeds. Pastures are then rested for 60-90 days allowing the plants sufficient time to recover.

What the animals don't eat, they trample. The trampled biomass is returned to the soil as a beneficial litter. The high density concentrates the manure from the livestock in the paddocks. Manure is spread by the livestock throughout the paddock for a beneficial distribution of nutrients.

Photo: A mob of dairy cattle. The cattle are held in with Step-In FiberRod Posts, a MiniReel and IntelliTwine polywire.

The first farm we visited was in Richmond, IA. The farms owner, Phil Forbes, runs a flock of St. Croix Hair sheep and raises dairy replacement heifers. NRCS Grazing Specialist Jess Jackson and Iowa State University Animal Science Professor Dr. Dan Morrical took the group on a walk through the pastures. They discussed which plant species were dominant and what could be done to improve the forage and utilization of the pastures. Mike talked to Mr. Jackson about several pasture revitalization projects Premier is thinking about doing, including eradicating the endophyte infected fescue on our farms.

Photo: The St. Croix hair sheep are a fairly small animal. The ewes weigh about 100 lbs each and a fat lamb has a hanging weight of about 40 lbs. They do well on pasture, have high resistance to parasites and work well for their owners management system.

Photo: Dr. Morrical (center) discusses the sheep operation and the pro's and con's of hair sheep breeds.

The second farm was an organic dairy located north of Bonaparte, IA and is run by the Smith family. The Smith family milks 70 cows and mob grazes their herd on 1/3 acre pastures. Discussions focused on how the farm decided to become organically certified after years of decreasing their herbicide/pesticide use, going organic seemed natural. Other topics included rations for the cattle, raising replacement heifers and the management of the pastures.

Photo: Organic dairyman Dan Smith (facing photographer) describes his operation and pasture management. He mob stocks his dairy herd on his farm which has been organically certified for about 20 years.

For more information on Practical Farmers of Iowa visit:

On a side note, during the walk I met the Erem family from eastern Iowa. They have a recent planting of hardwoods on 7 acres and decided it would be wise to keep the deer out. They spoke with one of our consultants, Gordon Shelangoski, and decided to install a 3-D Anti-Deer Fence. The fence is working and we're thinking about sending Tharren out to take a few photos of the fence in action.

Photo: Suzan Erem and myself discussing the fence her family installed to protect their hardwood plantings.