Organic farmer Clive Bright farms 120 acres in Sligo, where he operates an unusual grazing system.
Clive, can you please explain mob grazing?
Very high density mob grazing is a simple idea — the cattle graze long grass. The goal is to feed them entirely in the paddock they are in, so they are full when they go into the new paddock.
As it is fresh grass in the new paddock, they eagerly eat it. It’s great for conditioning the animal.
So in autumn/winter last year, I used a 67-day rotation — in other words, each paddock is rested for 67 days. That was after a poor summer.
It’s important to get a good trample down on the grass at the end of the winter. In spring, I’d start with a 30-day rotation.
You do need flexibility and to make adjustments all the time?
I’d aim to get four rotations a year. It’s about judging what you’ll need for the following day.
Imagine a long field with a fence across at one end, marking off one eighth of the field. That’s day one.
Then you move the fence onto the quarter mark on day two, but they can still walk back on the first bit.
So the back-fencing is one behind — they won’t want to go back too often as there is no grass they desire back there and there are lots of cow pats, but they might go back if they are hungry.
The grass won’t start to recover for three days, so it doesn’t matter if they do go back. I back-fence every three days. The main issue is water and dragging a tough every day.
In a six-paddock field, I place the water in a place where it can be accessed for up to three days without moving it.
What you want is an even cover of manure: a cow pat every 10 paces. You don’t want them to graze the grass down to the butt, but you also don’t want much standing grass, most of it should be trampled flat.
If the soil is healthy and biologically active, this allows the grass to grow through.
Farmers see this as grass waste — they think that it should be silage — but you are actually taking away organic matter turning it into silage. I grow stunning levels of grass with no fertiliser.
And it’s resilient — last year was really poor for grass growing, so they never got to graze really long grass. But all the cattle were well fed every day, and most paddocks got a good trample on each day.
I always had grass in front of the cattle, despite the weather — 30-40 days of grass were ahead of me.
If I wasn’t able to sell — for example if there was a TB lockdown — I’d have extra grass, a huge cushion of grass.
I really can’t fault the system it’s so easy and ecologically sound.
How do you avoid poaching the land with what is a high stocking rate for organic in the north-west?
Poaching doesn’t happen if cattle trample down long grass — with short grass grazed to the ground you would leave the soil unprotected.
However if it’s 10 to 15 inches tall, ideally at the four leaf stage, they only eat the top third.
That’s the nutritious, protein rich part of the plant — and they create a mat of protection with trampling.
The mat protects against poaching. The soil is so biologically active, it is managing the water far better — so there is no poaching or compaction damage.
Yesterday we had a storm, a good bit of water fell, and there was a tiny bit of soil exposed at a feeder, that’s it.
Another benefit worth mentioning is fantastic spring grass growth, which is hard to achieve in organic farming with the prohibition on mineral fertilisers.
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