As pastures become more productive, most ranchers increase stocking rate. Fulton says the size of the increase depends on the land and its condition. He’s increased his stocking rate another 80%, but others have gone as high as 400%, he says.

“Most folks who want to run 50% more cattle, might go out and rent 50% more land, but you be able to increase numbers that much just by changing management. And a stocking increase is mostly profit because there’s no increase in overhead,” Fulton says.

It just requires a little more labor. You can increase stocking rate during your grazing period, or use the additional forage to extend animal unit days. Some producers extend grazing by one to five months.

“We’ve gone to year-round grazing, which many people say you can’t do in central Nebraska,” Fulton says. “There are times that we feed a little hay, but we stockpile grass and graze through winter most years (see In Search Of 300 Day Grazing).”

Chad Peterson claims he has sufficient forage to outlast a yearlong drought. His ranch originally ran 300-400 cows, but he’s doubled that; plus, he brings in 700 stockers for six months. He grazes year-round but buys hay for blizzard emergencies.

Wofford bought his 10-section ranch in 2006. It had been grazed continuously, and the NRCS-recommended stocking rate was 125 pairs, he says.

“I kept 120-150 pairs until I got fencing and water sources partially developed for mob grazing in 2008. The past two years, I’ve been running a 500-pair equivalent, and the grass has improved phenomenally. NRCS is thrilled; I’m thrilled.”

He says he accomplished the increase and evolved to year-round grazing by putting a water source in each section and installing permanent electric fencing to divide it into smaller pastures.

“This allows flexibility to graze for grass health as well as animal performance. My neighbors’ grass is 2 in. tall. By allowing my grass to fully recover, I have native grasses more than 1 ft. tall. This alone creates more forage. Plus, my grass also has deeper root systems. In our current drought, I had green grass growing all summer,” Wofford says.

Species diversification

Mob grazing leads to plant diversity, beneficial for nutritional needs of cattle and health of the land.

“The more diverse the plants, the more resilient the pasture,” says Doug Peterson. “Cool and warm-season grasses and broadleaf plants in the mix help it withstand drought.” He says some mob graziers have counted up to 100 different species in their pastures.

Chad Peterson says he finds new plants every year. Getting away from the monocultures and tame pastures some stockmen once deemed satisfactory greatly multiplies productivity.

“Long rest periods are the key. I use a longer recovery period than some people – a year or more – and continue to get more plant species. My pastures also need longer rest because I’m in a more brittle environment with less rainfall,” he says.

“In many types of rotational systems, plants are always grazed in vegetative (growing) stage, never allowed to become mature. Those systems never have the diversity we’re seeing with mob grazing. With MIG systems, for instance, you’re trying to keep one plant (grass) at optimum vegetative stage,” he adds.

Certain plants are always grazed severely while others are hardly touched. “Even if you leave cows there only a short time, they eat their favorites. You must extend recovery period to accommodate those plants or they’ll die out.”

“With a long recovery period, there’s always something palatable and nutritious. In September, it’s sunflowers in our pastures. In this region, you see sunflowers along road ditches but never in pastures,” says Chad Peterson, because they never had a chance to mature.

“My meadows are full of sunflowers in the fall, and it’s the first thing cattle eat. Sunflowers are high in sugar then, because they’re a late-flowering forb. We have a lot of headed-out forage and people think I’ve wasted it,” he says. But there’s no such thing as waste in this system. Mature plants also provide a canopy for other plants to grow up into, protecting them from heat and drying out, he adds.

“If you don’t have enough diversity, and graze too often, you’re managing for cool-season grasses and it’s like a lawn. In spring, when it’s rapidly growing, you can keep mowing it. But by July-August, without water it stops growing and turns brown.

“Mob grazing’s big plus is plant diversity; different plants do well in different conditions – always providing something nutritious for cattle,” Chad Peterson says.