High Density Grazing With Small Herds
When I first heard of high density grazing, I assumed you had to have a large number of animals to perform this practice. We have been practicing high density grazing for all most 2 years on our grazing operation with herds that ranged from 50 to 250 head. We have seen some very positive results with mobbing up our herds to densities of 100,000 to 500,000 lbs/acre. We have never seen anything in the grazing world have such a dramatic positive effect on our farms.
Depending on what part of the growing season we are in, herds are moved from 1 to 3 times per day. Our rest period between each grazing cycle ranges from 25 to 150 days. Under our old grazing system, herds were moved every 2-3 days, rest periods ranged from 20 to 60 days.
By bunching up the livestock there is simply more competition to eat what is offered to them. We try to get 60% consumed, 20% trampled on the ground and 20% left standing. The actual results may vary some from this ideal ratio. Sometimes the livestock take 80% and trample the remainder, this is not a problem as long as you let the paddock fully re-grow before exposing the livestock to it.
We have changed our attitude towards weeds and brush, they are no longer a nuisance, both are livestock feed with high density grazing. With our leased farms and not owning a tractor, weed and brush encroachment have been a management concern. Our dry cow mob is our best tool for this. Their nutritional requirements are not as high as a lactating cow, so we simply bunch them up and they eat and stomp everything. We have a period in July- August that Ironweed simply takes over and have never had much luck getting cows to eat it, that is no longer true.
The energy that the mob injects into the soil is absolutely amazing with each grazed strip. We monitor the re-growth on paddocks where the cattle are removed from and the grass has re-growth within 24 hours if moisture is present. Normally grass does not start re-growing for 3 days under conventional grazing.
We are using the same grazing paddocks that we used with the previous system, just breaking them up into numerous temporary paddocks to get our animal density higher. We are also using the existing water systems with some modifications. Temporary lanes are used when needed to get the cattle to water with no adverse effects on the land or cattle. Manure deposited in the lane is actually being placed on the pasture, not in a permanent lane, no permanent dirt trails are developed simply because they are not on the lane long enough for trails to form. The temporary lanes are moved to a different location with each grazing cycle.
We have two mobs that we graze, we wish we could combine them into one. Unfortunately the farms do not all join each other. One group is made up of 140 dry custom grazed cows, the other group is our owned 90 cows along with 70 dry custom grazed cows to form the mob.
The positive results we have seen include: improved quality of forages, more forage quantity, more plant diversity, better manure distribution, much more drought proof, tremendous microbial action, increased water retention, better mineral cycling, perennial grasses coming back, more dung beetle activity, improved animal health, higher stocking rate, more profit. All of these awesome results have been achieved without any major costly outside inputs. The only investment made was geared ratio polywire reels and some tread-in posts. I want to go into a little more detail about some of the positive results listed above.
Quality Of Forages:
Our overall forage base has drastically improved in quality. We previously had areas on every paddock that livestock refused to eat. After the first rotation of the growing season these rank areas were avoided all season. With the high density grazing, the animal impact these areas are exposed to makes the quality skyrocket. It is amazing how long the plants hold their quality with this system as well. You can count the seed heads, most of your re-growth is succulent leaves.
We are growing more forage than previously with all the added manure distribution. The rested fully re-grown paddocks look like you put 100 pounds of nitrogen on them, very dark green colored leaves. My neighbor asked me how much fertilizer I had put down, I replied to him “A whole mobs worth.” With the long rest periods it allows all your plants to fully re-grow. This rested plant is a strong plant and can withstand severe droughts better than half grown plants. The mature sward also shields the canopy from the sun and helps preserve precious soil moisture which keeps the plant greener.
Increased Plant Diversity:
Grass species that we have not seen before are starting to appear in our paddocks. None of these new species were seeded, but resting in the seed bank waiting for the right opportunity to grow. I believe there is no better way to get diversity of forages than to beat it up with a mob and give it a nice rest to express itself. Redtop has exploded in some of our paddocks, never had any before. Indian Grass and Big Bluestem are coming up in areas that we have never seen any warm season grasses before. Our Gama Grass field that was about choked out by fescue over the previous years was restored to its grandeur by two treatments of timed high density grazing. The Gama field turn around is a whole story that I will cover in another article.
Better Manure Distribution:
When you get up around 500,000 lbs /acre, the manure distribution on the paddock is unbelievable. It is hard to find a manure pile that has not had a foot or two dragged through it. Some will be flattened like you hit them with a floor broom. It still amazes me how fast the manure piles disappear once the cattle have been removed. Dung beetles invade the manure immediately.
More Drought Proof: