Pasturing in Grey Bruce
Why management-intensive mob grazing?
Management-intensive mob grazing of cows, in combination with other diversified farming strategies, is one of the most cost-effective ways to save the planet. This strategy that imitates the large buffalo herds on the great planes is garnering increasing attention: electric fencing is used to crowd herds onto very small areas, where they indiscriminately eat, trample, and finish off pastures in a very short time. The grasses bounce back, ejects tons of root materials into the soil while concentrating energy for regrowth. Once the young green leaves regrow, the herd has already moved onto other pastures. This strategy supports enormous productivity, and better drought resilience. Additionally, it fosters a rich microbial soil life, and restores soil carbon.
Why is mob grazing not more popular?
There are three main reasons: (1) It is scientifically hard to prove the impact of this strategy, because it depends on management skills rather than on “hard” cause-effect-relationships; (2) It is more work than extensive grazing and doing it well requires knowledge, training and mentorship that is scarce these days; and (3) many farmers are invested heavily in feed-based systems because they bought machinery that is not necessary for rotational grazing.
Scientifically, it is difficult to “prove” the impact of this strategy: it really depends on the grazier’s management ability, which scientists find hard to measure. The result is that pasture efficiency usually does not distinguish good and bad management. Methodologically, this is like assessing the usefulness of EXCEL by comparing twenty computer illiterates and two computer geeks – and concluding that EXCEL is totally useless: results from computer geeks are erased as “outliers” because they are out-numbered by the illiterates. Regardless, some incredible stories are scientifically documented (e.g. Machmuller et al., 2015 in Nature), and there is a slow shift towards grazing, because it also frees farmers from relying on input-intensive GMO feed crops.
In places like Vermont, where feed and hay is increasingly scarce and expensive, mob grazing is becoming the most profitable strategy for dairy and meat production.
What does it take from consumers?
Making such a system work for us also requires shifting consumer behavior. First, grass-fed beef may be slightly more costly. Less but better meat is recommendable for healthy humans and a healthy planet! Secondly, grass-fed beef requires adjusted cooking. We recommend four principles:
- Put away the timer, get a good meat thermometer and use it.
- Turn down the heat.
- Learn when to use dry-heat cooking methods and when to use moist-heat methods.
- Ease up on the seasoning and sauces.