Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Married to the Mob

Greg and Jan Judy, Rucker, Missouri

An afternoon with Greg Judy was particularly enlightening. Greg runs South Poll cattle and St Croix cross sheep on his 1400 acres in the rolling central Missouri pastures. His environment is relatively non-brittle, meaning growth is stronger and more even thoughout the year. Its not like the UK but it is more like the UK than it is like the brittle extremes of heat and cold in North Dakota.

In the past few years since he adapted the system he refers to as Holistic Planned Rotational Grazing which he moved to from Management Intensive Grazing (MiG) his production has come on leaps and bounds. In fact he says his production has increased 240% in about 6 years. And with much more to come.

LEFT: Greg Judy's fixed costs.
"Okay forget about everything Will" he said with his midwestern burr. "Forget about tractors, and fertilisers, forget about what the coffee shops say, forget about the research and sales supplements, forget about making hay and silage. Forget about it all and concentrate on your mob." he enunciated this last bit slowly, it was clearly important.

"Everything you need to run a farm for stock they will and can provide. They know what they want you just need to create the conditions to provide it."

LEFT: Pointing out the worm casts
Greg concentrates on grazing tall and dense. His has reclaimed several denuded ex-cropping or overgrazed pastures around his area and has doggedly set about improving the land with them. "Will, a lot of people are going around saying cattle are destroying the land, causing erosion and assisting climate change. Lemme' tell you this. Animals are the only hope we have. The only one for building soil carbon and the soil."

Its all to do with how they're grazed. Greg took me out to a piece of pasture of his and pulled over a bit of the thick sward. "Look at this!" he exclaimed "look at that!" What he pointed to was small soil particles which had just been excreted by worms. "Worm poop!" said Greg "those worms are building more and more soil for me every day." By grazing tall and leaving plenty of trash on the surface of the soil after the mob have been through he is providing food for his soil life. He claims that for every one leaf he tramples in, nature will pay it back more than fourfold, possibly eightfold.

Greg started doing MIG about 20 years ago. The problem was that he always ran out of grass. "I would go back to a pasture after 40 days with MIG the sward hadn't had enough time to recover. Sure it looks nice and flat but scratch around and you will see that the grass was not dense enough. I didn't have enough solar collectors. This means that I am not using my field to its productive capacity." That meant when using MIG he was still having to make hay - with all its costs. He used to move 8 times a year with MIG, now he moves 2 or 3 and never runs out of grass.

When he moved to grazing taller he found a big difference very quickly. He has increased his stocking rate and now he claims he needs to add more animals. The mineral cycle is moving so much faster that it is producing more lbs/beef acre.

LEFT: The Winter Feed:
Now to many that looks a mess but to Greg its perfect winter feed. Even the tall weeds have a place either bringing minerals up from the ground, slowing the wind down or providing energy from seed heads.
It would be easy to scoff at all this. But cruciallu Greg's stocking rate is increasing, his costs rock bottom and his soil improving. He has no debts, runs his business on cash, building a stock asset and has the lifestyle he wants.
All Greg does is move his mob. He will get them in once a year for selection and sale. He runs the whole herd as a mob. Cows, bulls, yearlings, heifers. He insists that the herd instinct settles itself and benefits the whole. He is currently selling breeding heifers for other people who want to adopt the system. He says there is no disease problem because of the frequency of movement.

For the sheep he uses St Croix crosses. These have a parasite which means they shed wool in the spring. 25% of a sheep eats is wool- and its worthless , he tells me. So he runs the St Croix in a different flock from the herd and then alternates them with the cattle at a time of year to break the parasite cycle. He doesn't move the sheep as often - perhaps only once a week as they impact less than the cattle.

He will lamb on pasture late. About May. He says that the month of green grass in April is too high in protein whereas the May grass is better balanced and is better for the ewe to lamb later. He gives his sheep nothing and the 300 sheep lamb on a 20 acre paddock for a month at 1.8.

His advice to would be mob grazers is don't get more animals in the first year. Your animal may dip until the energy flow increases. The shorter you can stay on a pasture the closer the plant density and therefore the more "solar collectors" as he put it, you have.

More on Greg:

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