Friday, April 9, 2010

Moving from Conventional to Mob Grazing

Just wanted to let you know the simple steps on how to move from conventional grass fed beef over to mob grazing, or "ultra-high-density managed grazing." It's really quite simple. Since I've already blogged this today over at "A Midwest Journal, I'll give you the highlights:

1. Get out everyday for some excuse and move some fences. Actually walk out in and around your cattle regardless of the weather. This gets them used to you. And you’ll get more familiar with the individual cattle and how they are doing. You’ll probably go through more pairs of boots, but it’s cheaper than fuel and engine parts.

2. Study up on Managed Grazing. This is the step that both Joel Salatin and Greg Judy did first, while they eventually moved to Allan Savory’s methods of ultra-high-density stocking.

3. Start laying some temporary electric lines out with battery-powered chargers, subdividing your existing pastures so that cattle just have enough to eat for a couple of days in every small part. You’ll probably want to start with a small herd in a back pasture. We have some heifers and steers we keep back until they’re ready to meet the bull or the processor, so they are a good experiment. Take a nice pasture that already has a water supply available and a good perimeter fence.

4. Start buying hay with the money you’d spend on fertilizer, fuel, and equipment for hay. It should buy you the same amount or more. Quit growing your own. Import other people’s grass onto your farm and use it to fertilize your own fields.  But put those hay bales out where they'd do some good - not just in a feed lot where you are having to move it back out to the pastures again. Takes some foresight - but you'll use your tractor a lot less during the winter as you do.

5. Start moving your cattle through those former hay pastures. Under managed grazing, you’ll get through these about three or four times over eight months. In mob grazing, you’ll get through about twice a year. All that former hay ground can start making beef pounds while it's fertilized at the same time. Win-win.

6. Study the temporary layouts you are using. Cattle need three things – water, grass, and shelter. In “Grass-Fed Cattle", Julius Ruechel says that you can take your whole farm and simply rotate the cattle through it as you go. Our own farm is dotted with ponds, strips of woods, and waterways that are full in the spring, so this is a no-brainer.

7. Study where you are putting fences – if you keep putting them in the same spot, maybe you should put a permanent fence up there. We use steel t-bar posts for corners and just leave them there with the insulators on (so we can find them later) and this tells us where we are coming back to all the time.

 8. This brings up another point – use what you got to start with. There’s a lot of great fiberglass poles out there and fancy-dancy geared wind-up reels. We use reels for power cords and our old rebar poles with plastic insulators on them. (If you can’t shove them in with a heavy leather glove on your hand, you can carry a hammer on your belt for frozen or summer-hardened ground.) Invest in better gear when your cows start bringing you more profit from the lower overhead.

And I'm trying out an Amazon widget to give you some related books - so you don't have to look all over for references as you're getting started. (But this looks buggy - have to get back to you on it...)

This of course brought up the point of figuring out how to raise just a few or a couple of cows on very few acres. Look's like I've got some more to put on my backburners...