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Beefs and Beliefs

Mob Grazing Mashes Forage Flat to Build Soil

Ultra-high-density grazing uses "mob" of cattle to crush forage and feed the soil.

When I was "mob grazing" in October one of the things I wanted to accomplish was to mash about half the forage down tight on the ground with hoof action.

This good soil cover, combined with great distribution of urine and feces from ultra-high-stock-density grazing, is supposed to really get the soil food web moving forward, increasing biodiversity and actually building soil the way it was built by the enormous herds of ruminants which once roamed all the major grasslands of the world.

I visited at some length about all this last summer with Rodger Savory of Savory Grassland Management and with Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis. Savory says he personally has shown the value of this in Africa and in North America What I saw on Neil Dennis's ranchland this summer confirmed a lot of this for me.

I wondered if I could get the kind of trampling with a small herd I was seeing Dennis get with more than 1,000 animals.

After the fact, I believe I did get good results which neared those I saw on Dennis's place. But I didn't have the amount of forage to begin with and I made the cattle consume a little more. I was taking about half the forage -- sometimes a little more -- while Dennis estimates he was taking about one-third.

The next two photos are taken of the same spot in a very average-production location my pasture.


Notice there is a fair amount of forage laid flat on the ground.


This close-up shows where I used a knife to cut through the thatch and expose the soil underneath, trying to show the amount of thatch accumulated.


In the higher-production areas of the pasture, the thatch is much thicker. In low-producing areas it is thinner. In the very worst areas I mowed once this summer to put some of the cheatgrass on the ground and open the canopy for other forage to come in. Later, the cattle tromped that well and did not eat it, so it's still there, protecting the soil and hopefully feeding the microbes.


This closeup shows at least 1/4-inch of packed thatch in a high-production area of my fescue pasture.


When I was with Dennis last August I was amazed at the amount of thatch he was laying down flat on the ground. When I asked him about it he explained the basics of how high stock density and correct timing allowed him to graze off quality forage and lay the rest on the ground.

Here's a close-up shot of the thatch on top of Dennis's soil last summer.

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