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Grazing Principles at Work, Part 1 – Management Intensive Grazing in an Arid Environment

Successful grazing management grows out of an understanding of some basic principles, like how plants grow, and how soil conditions, weather, and climate alter plants’ rate of growth and recovery after grazing. That means management intensive grazing/adaptive managed grazing/mob grazing is different for folks working in areas with 48 inches of precipitation vs those with only 12 to 20 inches. Over the coming months we’ll take a look at how different operations manage grazing to provide examples of the variety of ways we can graze and be successful.


Today we’re headed to South Dakota where brothers Bob and John Rittberger raise cattle on a combination of private and public lands. The large scale of their operation, and the arid environment they work in means that their pastures are quite large and cattle stay in them about a month. In the video below, Bob describes their management as an effort to mimic the herds of buffalo that used to call these grasslands home.

“Buffalo when they came here, they just gradually moved around. It was like rotational grazing at its best. Now that we’ve got lands all fenced off, we’ve got to make sure that the cattle never stay in one spot too long and they can constantly move around, sort of like it was when the buffalo were here,” says Bob Rittberger. He notes that the Pierre Shale they graze on doesn’t take any abuse, “so we don’t dare overgraze on that type of ground.” They practice take half and leave half grazing which has helped them make it through times of drought.

About two-thirds of their grazing operation is an allotment on the 589,000-acre Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. Grazing on public lands is more common in the western United States and it’s an important part of the economic and ecosystem health of these areas. In this case in addition to paying for the grazing, the ranchers reduce fire danger and increase plant health, while providing wildlife habitat.

“Some of the land is woody draws and they’ve kind of stressed in the last 20 years that they want cattle off that land. We’re off after June 1 and back after October 1.” This works out well for the Rittbergers, providing them a place to graze in the winter.

Because management intensive grazing or mob grazing normally paints a picture of tightly packed animals grazing in small pastures and doing daily moves, the brothers don’t think of themselves as true rotational graziers. But if you look at what they’re doing, and remember that grass grows more slowly with only 18 inches of precipitation, you can see that they’ve adjusted their management to match their environment. They have 30 different pastures that the cattle rotate through. “We try to not to stay more than a month long. We try to move out to give plants a chance to come back. Usually we only graze a pasture once a year. Our goal is to always leave grass. We love grass,” Bob says.

The 7:32 video lets you visit Bob and John Rittberger and their ranch and learn a bit more about how they manage their water and cattle to get good distribution. Enjoy!

Dis this give you any  “Ah-ha” moments, or ideas that you got from this piece? Do share them in the comments below. If you have questions, I’d love to hear those too!

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