New management ideas can be obtained by driving across the state line and observing what producers are doing in neighboring states. The mob grazing of cattle to grow whitetails concept was brought to my attention by Brett Addison's presentation at the 2013 Grazingland Conference in Fort Worth. Wanting to learn more, I drove to the Addison Ranch near Marietta, just a few miles north of the Texas/Oklahoma line.
Primary focus of the Addison Ranch is hunting. It offers a variety of guided hunts including trophy whitetail deer, management whitetail deer, bow, feral hog, turkey, duck and combination packages. The lodge is located on one of the highest points on the ranch with breathtaking views of the lower creek bottoms. It contains four bedrooms and three baths and can accommodate up to six hunters comfortably. Cow-calf and stocker operations on the ranch are managed to improve and maintain good wildlife habitat.
"Lisa, my wife, and I drafted a mission statement for the ranch operation which guides our management practices," Addison said. "Our mission is to utilize enterprises on our land to pay for the land while building a cash reserve for operational expenses. Management must be based on producing a healthy product while improving the land for future generations. Decisions for the ranch should be made with the following ranked priorities in mind: faith, family, fun, financial and friends."
Previous to buying the Oklahoma ranch, Brett ranched with his father in North Texas, where they intensively, short-term grazed 50 pastures of the same size and containing the same habitat. There are approximately 100 pastures on the Oklahoma ranch with extremely diverse habitat, which dictates a variance in pasture size of 10 to 400 acres.
"I use mob grazing because I have learned that it improves pastures and increases animal productivity," Addison said. "Many producers, including myself, have shown that stocking rates can be increased after utilizing mob grazing for a few years; however, you should be careful with increasing animal units, because of the continued threat of drought.
"You don't want to get caught with too many cattle during dry periods and have to destock in a depressed market. I also like mob grazing because it is accomplished primarily with management and very little money is required."
"Mob grazing involves moving cattle at least daily between small paddocks, sized to match the number of grazing cattle, and split by portable electric fence," said Jason Johnson, public affairs specialist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. "The goal is for every plant in the grazing cell to be either eaten or walked on and trampled.
"Plants in each paddock then rest for 60 to 120 days or more. Benefits of mob grazing compared to continuous grazing include: allowing more cattle on the same or fewer acres, better weed control, less fertilizer cost, extended grazing season, improved livestock health, more plant diversity, and better soil health through built-up organic matter and reduced erosion."
"It's not a big deal if I move the cattle daily or weekly," says Bill Totemeier, a producer near New London, Iowa. "What's important is managing around the weather, your forages, and always watching animal performance.
"Think holistically, be flexible and vary rotations from year to year to allow seed production on all paddocks."
Putting a large number of cattle in a pasture for a short period of time causes the animals to graze more of the whole landscape and to select a wider variety of plant species. Removing the canopy of existing plants by grazing creates space for additional plants to establish and encourages a greater diversity of plants. Plant diversity causes an increase in soil microbe activity resulting in better soil health. A more even distribution of urine and dung occurs with mob grazing which improves soil fertility. Better distribution of litter, due to mob grazing, protects the soil from heat and catches rainfall for percolation into the soil.
"In the spring, I like to see yellow and brown vegetation mixed with the green," says Addison. "The yellow and brown last year's growth tells me that the pasture wasn't overgrazed. The old growth mixed with lush, nutrient-rich spring vegetation provides a balanced diet for the cattle."
"We high-fenced the property in 2000 and in 2010, we started mob grazing," Addison said. "By 2012, deer with maximum antler scores of 208 inches were harvested. In 2014, 10 bucks scoring more than 190 inches and five with more than 200 inch antlers were identified. The largest buck was harvested and scored 254 6/8 Boone and Crockett gross.
"Our deer currently have more antler mass and points than anytime during the 14 years of being in the hunting business. We also have more deer than before. Was mob grazing responsible for the improved deer population?
"I can say that mob grazing of cattle has improved deer habitat," Addison said.
"Mob grazing allows me to impact everything growing in a given area, which creates a more diverse plant community. Cattle break and tramp down brush promoting sprouting of new green growth that deer relish.
"There is very little woody plant understory in our native hardwood groves due to the cattle. The result is a mixture of grass, forbs and sprouts which entice the cattle and deer to feed in these areas."
Deer on the Addison ranch eat only native vegetation. There are no food plots or supplemental protein feeding. Corn is fed during hunting season to make the deer more visible.
Wildlife on the ranch is cared for through management, not money.
The same principle of low-cost management is utilized in the cattle enterprises also. There are no purchases of feed, hay, fertilizer or cattle insecticides. The only health treatment is vaccination for the Clostridia diseases when they are dehorned and castrated.
Short durations of grazing and long rest periods for pastures prevent completion of parasite life cycles, so they are not a threat to livestock. Addison also maintains a closed herd, so disease organisms are not introduced from the outside.
Addison's cattle breeding program is based on information obtained from Dick Diven, who conducted Low Cost Cow/Calf Production Schools at the University of California.
"Animals are sunbathers," said Diven. "The sun plays an important role with regards to reproduction. The amount of daylight is referred to as photoperiod.
"Many wild animals are seasonal breeders that use photoperiod as the indicator for cycling and breeding. Photoperiods vary with latitude and interact with animal body condition score.
At 40 degrees north latitude, postpartum interval (time between calving and normal cycling) increases at body condition score 5 or 5.5 and decreases at body condition score 7.
It is because of this interaction that you cannot make the blanket statement of being in body condition score 5 at calving. Maybe it needs to be 5.5, 6 or 4.5. It depends on your location."
Probabilities of conception by 85 days post calving for the latitude of the Addison Ranch is shown in the table on page 11.
If a calf is desired every year then a cow has to conceive within 85 days after calving.
Assuming a 280-day average gestation period, then 365 days in a year minus a 280-day gestation period equals 85 days in which to breed back. Probabilities are expressed in percentages, so a "1.0" in Table 1 means that there is a 100 percent chance that a cow will calve by 85 days post calving.
Addison's cows calve from June 12 until late August. According to Table 1, if his cows are at BCS 6 when they calve, they will have a 100 percent chance of breeding back within 85 days.
It is interesting to note that at the Addison Ranch latitude, cows calving at below BCS 6 have a fairly low chance of breeding back within 85 days. Another advantage in Addison's calving period is that his cows are lactating when forage quality is good and their nutrient requirements are at the highest level.
Calves are weaned around March 15 and are held as stockers until late August. Flexible sale dates allow for market fluctuations, drought or other factors.
"Do not become overly concentrated on land condition and forget the cattle," Addison said.
"Learn how to score animal body condition and monitor it constantly.
"Look at rumen fill. If a cow's rumen is not full in the middle of day, she couldn't get enough to eat that morning.
"Observe cow pats to determine diet quality. If they are stacked high, the cow is eating a lot of lignin which is not nutritious. I like to see them rather flat with a moist dimple in the middle indicating that the cow is getting a balanced diet.
"If monitoring shows a problem, either use bigger pastures or move the cattle more often."
Mob grazing works for Addison because he is flexible. If he gets tired, he doesn't move cattle for a week. He gives them an extra big pasture where they don't have to be moved as often.
Addison also is flexible in selecting locations for his temporary fencing. He picks the easy spots for poly-wire installations and does not necessary put the fence in the same spot every time he moves cattle.
Addison is quick to say, "Mob grazing might not work for every operation -- but it sure works for me."