Mob grazing: assessing forage
Assessing forage in a mob grazing system
There’s a lot of discussion about ‘selective’ versus ‘non-selective’ grazing within the mob grazing and Holistic Management community. You may be wondering: How do I know if my animals are getting enough quality forage? How do I know when to move them and how much grass to leave behind? Should I be trying to achieve high utilization of grass or a trampling effect?
There is no correct answer to these questions, it all depends on your land and what you are managing for, e.g. heavy trampling could serve a particular ecological outcome, or you might want to selectively graze your finishing cattle on your best pasture.
Many farmers say it’s all about close observation and learning from your mistakes! Keep an eye on how your pasture responds to the grazing method you are using. How long does it take for pasture to recover? What changes can I see in the mix of grass/forbs/clover? What’s the impact on animal condition and dung consistency?
Record as much detail as you can to help when planning for your next grazing season. Animal impact and long rest periods are likely to lead to changes in pasture diversity and carrying capacity over time and measuring this impact of your management will help you make more informed decisions. Apps like Soil Mentor are a useful way to gather data, but written records work just fine too!
Assessing forage at Barnside Farm
Charley and Andrea Walker at Barnside Farm, in the Scottish Borders, are using a selective grazing approach to prioritise calves, so animals are eating the best half of the forage and leaving the rest in the “bank” as they go into winter in case they need it later.
Barnside Farm on assessing how much residual to leave behind:
Using a non-selective grazing approach at Balsar Glen
Heather and Philip Close of Balsar Glen follow the work of regenerative rancher Jaime Elizondo, who advocates for non-selective grazing rather than leaving half the forage to be trampled.
Jaime says farmers should be aiming for “a high leaf to stem ratio” by grazing it hard, leaving 15-20% behind, then ensuring a long rest period. Making sure the cattle get a good amount of fibre can be seen in nice solid dung. He doesn’t want cattle to only eat only the high sugar leaf as this creates a high pH rumen.
He says “we need cattle that can do well on more mature forages, grazing non-selectively.” Find out more about his approach here.
Balsar Glen on using a non-selective grazing approach:
Online Q&A: Moving animals and assessing forage
In November 2020, we held an online Q&A with Charley and Andrea Walker of Barnside Farm in the Borders, Nikki and James Yoxall of Grampian Graziers, Aberdeenshire, and Doug Christie of Durie Farms in Fife.
Their discussion covered:
- Why they adopted mob grazing
- Grass measuring strategies, residual grass and resting periods decisions
- Mob grazing in wet conditions
- Paddock size, shift schedule and restrictions to mob size
- Animal health and behaviour: benefits of mob grazing
- Sheep and mob grazing
- Arable farming and mob grazing