|Grazing with a Mob Mentality|
Piedmont Producer Practices Extreme Form of Rotational Grazing for His South Poll Herd
His small, beef cattle farm looks like a pastoral painting nestled at the base of Hurricane Mountain in Piedmont. However, to John Lyons, the true beauty of the place is watching his South Poll cattle mob graze lush grass divided into paddocks.
Lyons is especially proud of the performance of his South Poll cattle using the mob-grazing method. The South Poll breed of cattle was developed by Teddy Gentry of the group Alabama at Bent Tree Farms near Fort Payne in 1989. The breed is a combination of Red Angus, Hereford, Barzona and Senepol.
What motivates Lyons these days is the idea of mob grazing. Essentially, mob grazing is an extreme form of rotational grazing where high numbers of cattle are grazed on very small areas. Every day or every few hours, the cattle are given a new area to graze and formerly-grazed areas are allowed to rest for around 90 days.
According to Lyons, the benefits of mob grazing include increased soil organic matter, weed control and grass health.
"We move the cattle three times a day," said Lyons referring to his 57 brood cows, 15 calves and 20 weaned calves he mob grazes. "We haven’t used any herbicides, pesticides or commercial fertilizer the past two years."
Basically, Lyons has the perimeter of his 90 acres fenced and divided down the middle with permanent fencing. Within the permanently fenced pasture, he has paddocks divided in 100 by 100-foot rectangles with one strand of electric fencing.
"I bought a few Gallagher reels from our local Co-op here in Piedmont, and that has made the job much faster," Lyons said. "I can change the cattle from one paddock to the next in about two minutes."
While mob grazing, his cattle not only eat the grass, clover and weeds, the high concentration of manure has been a big benefit as well.
"Just look at where the cattle grazed five days ago. The manure is almost gone," Lyons remarked. "I worm the cattle with a wormer that is dung beetle-friendly. The dung beetles eat the manure and bore into the soil at a depth of approximately four inches taking the manure down with them."
The dung beetles have really helped in conditioning and fertilizing his soil and, in addition, he’s seeing a lot of earthworms.
"My goal is to create a highly-organic soil which causes nutrients to be better absorbed by the plants," Lyons explained. "For fertilizer, I use sea salt, coral and milk from a local dairy."
While the cattle are intensely grazing one, small paddock, Lyons provides Sweetlix® Copperhead minerals from his Co-op and a continual supply of water in a tub with a shut-off float.
"The mineral feeder I use came from the Co-op, and it has a rubber flap that keeps the rain out. The cows lift the flap with their nose and have easy access to the mineral salt," Lyons said. "We mounted the mineral feeder on a large truck tire and put an I-bolt in the side of the tire so we could move the mineral feeder with a four-wheeler."
Lyons is almost to the point through his mob grazing where he has to feed very little hay during the winter.
"We do year-round forage and, last year, we only had to feed the cattle 11 round bales of hay," Lyons remarked. "I don’t bushhog, spray or plow the pastures, so I rarely use the tractor."
During the winter, Lyons overseeds his pastures with Marshall Ryegrass from the Co-op.
"One thing I’ve learned about picking the right forage for the pastures is to look in the highway medians," Lyons said. "The grass and clover that grow well in the highway medians seem to grow well here."
The mob grazing has dramatically reduced weed populations in his pastures.
"Since we are mob grazing, the cows eat everything," Lyons observed. "I think I found two thistle plants this spring."
If there is any undesirable weed left behind, it is easy to see and pull out.
Lyons said that 90 percent of his cattle have been sold for breeding stock.
"We’ve had cows go to Minnesota, Tennessee, Missouri, Utah and Nevada," Lyons said. "About 10 percent of the cattle are sold to local individuals wanting to buy their grass-fed beef directly from the farm for butchering."
The only cattle going to the cattle sale are the cows that didn’t get bred or ones that get culled for body type he doesn’t like.
"Another great thing about the mob grazing, the cows are in such close proximity with the bull during this time that most all get bred," Lyons added.
Once the cows are bred, Lyons moves the stock bull and yearling bulls to other pastures and allows the cows, calves and heifers to resume mob grazing.
Since the mob-grazing technique seems to require more labor to move the cattle three times a day, I asked Lyons what he does when he has to be out of town for a few days.
"If I will be gone for more than a day or two, I just open up more paddocks for the cattle to graze so they don’t run low of forage," Lyons replied. "I also make sure the water flow in the tank is good and the cows have plenty of free-choice minerals in the tub."
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.