Paul Brown is a young man who could be making big bucks in North Dakota’s oil fields. But he figures he’s making more per hour mob-grazing yearling beef cattle on his family’s Bismarck, N.D., ranch.
Mob grazing is one of the newest innovations in intensive grazing management. It involves dense stocking rates that mimic buffalo grazing.
Paul, who farms 4,500 acres with his father, Gabe, runs approximately 325 beef yearlings on paddocks as small as one-third acre. He sets up the electric fence and moves the yearlings to new paddocks five to eight times a day. The paddocks are seeded with a mixture of cover crops — sunflowers, corn, field peas, radishes and triticale.
• Young producer gets started by using a mob-grazing system.
• He puts 325 cattle in paddocks and moves them five to eight times a day.
• High-tech gate latches open automatically so the cattle can move themselves.
The cattle graze each paddock only once a season, eating approximately 30% to 40% of the forage and trampling the rest. The cover-crop plants, the stubble and the livestock hoof action, manure and urine combine to improve soil health and increase the organic matter in the soil. The Browns no-till corn or another cash grain into the stubble the year after it is grazed and don’t add any commercial fertilizer.
“Our corn breakeven is $1.18 per bushel,” Gabe says.
Better than oil field
Moving cattle several times a day isn’t as labor intensive as it sounds. Once Paul has a series of paddocks set up with high-tensile electric fence, he attaches Batt-Latches to spring gates between the paddocks. Made by a New Zealand company, Batt-Latches can be programmed to release the gates at preset times. When a latch releases, a gate snaps open, and cattle move to a new paddock with fresh forage.
Paul divides pounds of beef produced by the hours spent managing the grazing system to show earnings of about $50 per hour. “That’s more than I can make in the oil field,” he says.
This article published in the August, 2010 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.