A few weeks ago, we introduced you to Jay and Krista Reiser and their pilot project to use mob grazing on the 2700 acre ranch they were taking over in North Dakota. Their goals were to prevent the $38,000 per year loss their financial adviser predicted if they continued to operate the ranch as it had been for decades, and to find out if mob grazing could be a tool for improving soil and forage production.
The first thing most folks think of when considering mob or management-intensive grazing on a large landscape is all the work involved in fencing and watering the cattle. It’s a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With a little planning, the right equipment and some ingenuity, the Reisers demonstrated that it is possible. In fact, their typical grazing set up for four moves in a day doesn’t look that painful:
- Take down part of yesterday’s fence
- Set up the first grazing cell for the day
- Let cows in
- Set up fences and automatic gates (batt latches) for the day’s moves
- Go about the other projects you may have for the day!
Here’s how they did it.
Planning the Grazing System
The Reisers started figuring out where they would graze and when by printing out a map and sketching in possible fences. Here’s a past article on how you can get a map of your place to help you get started.) Once on the ground, they used the ATV odometer and their own strides to measure distances. Here’s what their map ended up looking like. The arrows show the lanes they mob grazed as part of this project. Other areas were grazed conventionally, or were rested completely. They set up cells within the grazing lanes for the daily moves.
The Riesers ran single wire electric fence to create large paddocks and then separated large paddocks into smaller segments to move the cattle once a day to as many as four times a day depending on forage production. Their equipment list focused on simple materials. They used:
• Polybraid on geared rollers
• Treadline Step-in-Posts
• Pig Tail Step in Posts
• Jump Wires
• Batt Latches
Note that T-Posts are missing from this list. T-Posts are bulky and heavy and take extra work to install, so they didn’t fit with the Reiser’s Keep-It-Simple system. Instead, they developed an innovative way to use their pig tail posts to set up modified H braces. The reels hang on one pigtail post. That post is stabilized using twine with a loop at one end going through the pigtail and a loop at the other end slipped around the base of another pigtail post.
Here’s an example of how they set up a corner when they needed to water more than one cell out of the same water point. Jay noted that we need to use our ingenuity when figuring out how to use our materials to best advantage and to not be limited to the typical ideas we have in our heads.
Here’s an example of how they ended one geared reel and started another. Again, twine is an important part of reinforcing the post set up. But it’s light, cheap (or free) and easy to use.
The Treadline step-in posts in combination with the Batt Latch were an important labor saving device for the Reisers. A Batt Latch is a spring gate that automatically opens when the timer goes off.
The step-in post supports the weight of the batt latch pull.
When the latch opens, the spring gate falls to the ground. If your gate is electrified, this can cause voltage issues unless you have a high charge on your fence. The Reisers trained their cattle to electric fence and when they quit testing the fence, they no longer electrified the fence so they had no voltage loss from the spring falling to the ground.
Cattle learned the sound of the batt latch releasing and knew that it meant it was time to move to fresh pasture. But not everything always goes as planned. Sometimes the latches didn’t release, and sometimes the herd didn’t find the batt latch when it opened. They suggest that you double check your latches before leaving for the day, and if your cattle haven’t yet figured out how to find the gate when it’s time to move, be there for some of the moves early on to help them get the hang of it.
The fences were all run on a battery power solar recharging energizer. Jay’s rule of thumb for choosing the size for your fence energizer is 1/2 to one joule per mile of temporary fence and he noted that polybraid has a higher resistance so needs more power behind it. No charger does well without adequate grounding and this is generally the first thing to check if you’re having an issue with your fence.
Watering the Herd
The Reisers used above-ground, movable pipeline and tanks to water their cattle. Water tanks with floats served one area for about 7 days, and then had to be drained, pulled onto a flatbed trailer and hauled to the next cell. One of the issues they had was that the recharge rate for their water wasn’t as good as they would have liked. This meant that the cows got the water and the calves got pushed out of the way. They solved this problem with a creep waterer for the calves.
Is all of this work worth it? Well, as Jay and Krista noted in the last article, they were able to extend their grazing season while actually increasing forage production on the ranch. But fencing and watering isn’t all they learned about. Coming up we’ll look at what Jay and Krista learned about managing their grazing herd in different forage types and weather, and how the size and the shape of the cell affected the way cattle grazed. Stay tuned!
Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible. Click on over to see the great work they do for all of us. Thank them for supporting On Pasture by liking their facebook page.
Here are the rest of the articles in this series: