For part three I will focus on High Density Grazing. This is sometimes referred to as Mob grazing, which it is not (please see part two), or HDG. High density grazing is also a type of grazing where livestock are rotated or moved to new, fresh pasture. Please don’t confuse this with “rotational grazing.”
High density grazing is just that, grazing your livestock at high densities. If you read Acres USA or the Stockman Grass Farmer, you will hear all sorts of different people giving you numbers and formulas about high density grazing. 100,000lbs per ace, 800,000lbs per acre. Which one is considered high density?
I’m not a fan of saying that you need to have your animals stocked at xxx,xxx pounds per acre in order to be high density. But, I need to define high density grazing for you so I will do my best to not give you any formulas but provide you with an understanding of what high density grazing is.
Cattle at Greg Judy’s place
Ian’s cattle in South Africa
As you can see, these animals are close together. They are not uncomfortably close together. They have room to graze and move around. I would consider something like this high density grazing.
The animals are obviously grouped close enough to get some good animal impact on the ground, and their behavior is changing because they are closer together and they have to compete for food. Ever been to a crowded buffet on a Friday night? LOL (LOL = laughing out loud, for all you old timers out there =). Have you ever seen cows standing out in a pasture a quarter of a mile apart? They aren’t worried about a thing, just slowly walking around and grazing. Most of the time grazing grass that is 1/2’’ tall. However, high density grazing completely changes their behavior. They realize “Oh no! I better start eating anything and everything I can if I don’t want to go hungry.”
So, high density grazing is not only a change in the density of the grazing livestock but also their behavior. This change in behavior is what really makes high density grazing such a powerful tool.
I do want to note that high density grazing limits the selection of forage the animals will eat. I’ll use the buffet analogy again. If you graze your livestock at high densities they aren’t eating at a buffet. They are eating whatever is placed in front of them. Maybe, if they are lucky, it’s a lot of extremely palatable and sweet grasses. Chances are there are some things in there that the livestock don’t care for too much. Like old fruit cake or mutton. Yuck! Just understand that you are forcing them to eat things they would not normally eat, which, if you aren’t careful could make them unhappy and consequently not perform well. I want to stress that this is something you don’t need to worry too much about, just realize what you are doing. Maybe Kathy Voth could chime in on this issue in the comments section. Thanks Kathy!
The benefits of high density grazing are:
- Better forage utilization – more grass/weeds/brush is eaten than would be if livestock were at “normal” densities
- Increased animal impact which increases kinetic energy which “wakes up” soil microbes
- More litter is trampled on the soil surface which covers the soil. I could write a book on the benefits of a covered soil surface
- More control of the animals for the livestock manager
- Forces the livestock manager to go and observe the animals on a regular basis because putting 300 head on 5 acres means the livestock can’t graze that area for a long period of time
- Concentration of dung and urine which contain nutrients and microbes vital to the health of your land
- It’s serious fun!
The downsides of high density grazing are:
- Your livestock can easily overgraze the forages if you are not carefully monitoring them
- You can lose sight of animal performance. What good is it to use high density grazing if your animals aren’t happy and healthy? Unless you’ve won the lottery your first priority is to monitor for animal performance.
- It requires more time, brain power, planning and guts to pull it off successfully. If you enjoy seeing your livestock once a week or once a month, don’t do high density grazing. It has to fit your management style and personality
- It’s addicting. I love to see livestock just beat the @*%# out of a paddock. However, it can become addicting, leading you to lose sight of other things like your family, the quality of the water in the next paddock, or planning your vacation (have you taken one this year?)
- It requires practice. Not that this is a downside but just know that you will make mistakes. For example it’s not a good idea to start high density grazing if you have clay soils and it just rained four inches. Try it some other time!
We need to start giving definitions to all of these grazing terms because they can be misleading. We also need to know what someone else is talking about when they use any one of these terms. Just because someone is a high density grazier doesn’t mean they are profitable or a Mob grazer. If someone is using high density grazing, it doesn’t mean they are a Holistic Management practitioner. It also doesn’t mean they are using high density grazing 100% of the time.
There you have it. High density grazing defined.