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Mastering the mob – rapid management of mob grazing

Kindra Gordon Published on 01 May 2011
Randy Holmquist

“My goal is to have cattle use 60 percent of the vegetation and trample the other 40 percent.”

That’s how Reliance, South Dakota, rancher Randy Holmquist describes his use of mob grazing.

The practice entails using an ultra-high stock density of cattle on a small pasture area and then allowing the area to regrow and recover
for up to a year before being grazed again.

Using temporary fence built with polywire – and the help of his wife, Julie, Holmquist uses a stock density of as much as 800,000 pounds per acre and may move this “mob” of cow-calf pairs to new areas for grazing as much as six times a day. He and his wife run a herd of Red Angus cows and do custom grazing.

After experimenting with mob grazing for the past five years, Holmquist says the result has, without a doubt, shown improvement in soil and plant health in his pastures.

Randy Holmquist's cattle grazing

He explains, “Trampling the vegetation helps build organic matter into the soil. By building organic matter, you then get more water- holding capacity, more dung beetles and earthworms and eventually biodiversity of plants.”

Holmquist reports that after the first couple years of mob grazing, he began seeing a transition in his pastures from what was once mostly bromegrass to more native grasses like western wheatgrass, big bluestem and green needlegrass.

He adds, “The plants also seem to be healthier with bigger leaves, which allows the plants to capture more solar energy.”

And Holmquist has observed that his grass plants are staying in a vegetative, higher nutritional state longer.

“When plants are less vigorous, they mature and go to seed quickly, but we are seeing our grasses stay in the vegetative stage longer as a result of mob grazing,” he says.

Thistles are also less of a problem. “It seems like when the soil is healthier and covered with plant litter, you don’t have noxious weed problems either,” Holmquist notes.

Grazed and trampled forage

Not an exact science

Holmquist acknowledges that mob grazing requires some trial and error. “It’s not an exact science.

You need to experiment with how high a stock density you want to put on an area and when you’ll need to move the herd – whether it’s daily or a couple times a day.”

When Holmquist initially started mob grazing, he started on a small scale, and he encourages others to do the same.

He suggests to producers, “Get some polywire and just experiment. Run 100,000 pounds on a small area and then watch that area recover.”

Holmquist clarifies that mob grazing does not mean you will mob graze during the entire growing season. “I do it off and on throughout the summer,” he says.

For instance, he will mob graze his herd of about 300 pairs for a few days at the beginning of the grazing season, and then he might move them onto a larger area and rotational graze them for several days or weeks before doing a few more days of mob grazing.

Holmquist notes it is important to create a grazing plan at least 30 days prior to the growing season based on factors such as rainfall, number of animals, days of rest and recovery since last grazing, estimate of forage available and past grazing records.

All total, Holmquist will mob graze about 300 acres beginning in May and through the growing season. He emphasizes that those mob-grazed acres will then need a long recovery time.

“We will only graze the mob-grazed areas once during the growing season. Occasionally, we might return to that area with the cattle in the winter, but recovery time is essential with mob grazing,” stresses Holmquist.

He continues, “All grasses don’t recover at the same rate, so they need that time.”

For first-timers giving mob grazing a try, Holmquist cautions that the area can look pretty beat up after being grazed at a high stock density. But Holmquist says, “The more animal impact you can get on an area, the more change, and with enough recovery time it comes back better. Recovery time is the secret.”

Mob grazing contained with polywire fence

Advice for others

Holmquist also advises others considering mob grazing to pay attention to animal performance. He says,

“As you estimate stock density, you want to estimate how much forage is there and make sure adequate forage is available to meet animals’ needs.

I haven’t seen any negative effects on gain or animal performance, but you need to monitor that.”

He notes that this is where the willingness to experiment, be flexible and adjust is important.

In offering advice to others, Holmquist says it can be an adjustment getting used to the idea of trampling some of the forage rather than using it for grazing.

“It took me a while to accept that too, but you need to realize you are putting that forage in the bank by putting it in the soil to build organic matter.”

Lastly, Holmquist acknowledges that the fencing and moving of cattle to make mob grazing does take an investment of time.

However, he counters that by pointing out, “Haying takes a lot of time too. With mob grazing, the time you put in pays off.”  end_mark

Kindra Gordon may be reached at

PHOTOS

PHOTO 1: Randy Holmquist (pictured) monitors his range and pastures by tracking species diversity, ground cover and pounds of dry matter forage produced.

PHOTO 2: South Dakota’s Randy Holmquist will stock as much as 800,000 pounds of cattle per acre for his mob-grazing efforts.

PHOTO 3: After a few hours of ultra-high stock density on a small area, Holmquist likes to see the forage grazed and trampled to the ground. His goal is 60 percent grazed and 40 percent trampled.

PHOTO 4: Using a single polywire fence, Randy Holmquist is able to concentrate his cattle’s grazing on small paddocks, before moving them to fresh grass. By mob grazing in this manner, Holmquist reports improving his species diversity, forage production and soil health. Photos courtesy of Randy Holmquist.

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