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19 May 2018

King West

How the implementation of mob grazing can be used to improve soil health

Mob grazing, often referred to as cell-grazing, intensive rotational grazing or strip grazing, is a system of moving livestock around a field to graze sections in rotation. The base concept expands on the natural grazing patterns of wild herding animals and allows a high density of animals to graze a small area, enabling the remaining area to be exposed to sunshine and therefore maximise the land’s grass yield. 

This less conventional system of mob grazing theoretically allows a higher number of animals to graze a  block of land by subdividing the land and rotating the livestock regularly. Fields are therefore left to rest for much longer periods before animals return. The general concept accepts that herds should be turned into fields when the grass is knee-high and taken out when it is ankle high. This enables the cattle to graze one-third, trample one-third and leave one-third. These combined actions dispose carbon into the soil and create a sponge of organic matter. In turn, this allows the grass regrowth rates to be vastly improved and, in turn, the amount of inputs - for example, bagged fertiliser and feed supplements - to be reduced over a two- or three-year period. 

Mob grazing helps to graze down the sward equally, where a mix of grasses, legumes and herbs are planted, which prevents the livestock from selectively grazing which plants they eat. Livestock eat the top third of the sward, where nutrients are most prevalent. The stems, which are far less nutritious, are trampled into the ground to add to the soil. In turn, this means that the likelihood of any plant species becoming dormant is minimised and the sward remains diverse. As the trampled forage is continually returned to the surface, the soil is fed with fresh, nutrient dense shards. As a rich, fertile soil requires a mixture of nutrients, a maintained diverse sward will bring significant advantages. Some plants are rich in proteins, some have anthelmintic properties, deep rooted plants help in long, dry summers, as well as pulling nutrients from the deeper earth, all adding to soil fertility, adding organic matter and thus overall soil health. 

Conversely, there are a number of negative impacts on farm management when implementing mob grazing. For instance, mob grazing does increase the management and labour required to move the stock around. Additionally, there is a requirement for more fencing and water supplies, which in the short term require a not inconsiderable capital expense. 

Tips for Implementing a Mob Grazing Plan

  • Create a plan based around specific key dates
  • Be flexible - be ready to change the rotation plan based on what the herd is telling you
  • Build up volumes of livestock gradually
  • Plan your blocks prior to fencing
  • Consider electric fencing, allowing paddock sizes to be adjusted easily
  • Consider alternative water provision and temporary solutions rather than expensive, permanent options

At King West, our knowledge of alternative land uses is diverse. If you are considering mob grazing, or are looking for ways to improve your soil health, in the first instance, contact Harry Epsom on hepsom@kingwest.co.uk.

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