A few of you may know but we’re currently involved with Defra’s Mob Grazing project working alongside ADAS. An exciting venture to assess the productivity and animal health and welfare of mob grazing on commercial systems.
The trial will run for three years and aims to investigate the impacts, benefits and trade-offs of mob grazing systems compared to conventional set stocked
grazing systems on commercial farm sites. As part of this we are in charge of monitoring the stock on seven sites across the country; Northumberland, North Wales, Lincolnshire, Sussex, Herefordshire and two sites in Hertfordshire.
Mob grazing is a form of intensively managed grazing where large numbers of animals graze a small area of land for a short period of time. There is increasing interest in this system from UK farmers due to perceived productivity and environmental benefits. However, there is very limited UK research to quantify the impact of mob grazing systems, and most UK farmers adopting the system have been influenced by anecdotal evidence from other farmers and/or have drawn from experiences and research from overseas where soil and climatic conditions may be very different to the UK. This project will identify (I) whether greater uptake of mob grazing practices is practical and economically beneficial for UK farming and (ii) issues, benefits, trade-offs and any wider impacts of mob grazing systems including effects on soil, air and water quality, biodiversity, carbon storage, and animal health and welfare.
Livestock health monitoring and performance is a key factor in the relative success of mob grazing on commercial farms and this is the area that we are coordinating as part of the project. The farms are by location very different and have a variety of livestock systems, one spring calving dairy unit, two suckler units, four beef youngstock and one site also has Llyn sheep on the trial.
Dan, Rob and Claire are heading up the project alongside myself and Emily in Lancs. Emily and I are doing the health and welfare observations and muck sampling for gut, lungworm and fluke; three visits to each farm per year. Our observations for each group cover the main health checks such as body condition scoring, mobility, rumen fill, cleanliness, eye/nose discharges, skin abrasions, fly worry and monitoring rumination. We also report on the weather on each visit, shade and shelter and any stress that could affect the stock.
Before we go in to get the closeup individual health scores, we also spend an hour with each group, ideally far enough to watch but not disturb to see any behavioral reactions, quite important with the mob group before they get moved into their new patch of grazing. This has been most interesting and something that is quite a luxury to be able to do now as on most farms due to the many jobs with seemingly less time and especially with the lack of staff, it’s difficult to find time. I know it was drilled into me from when I first started working with dairy cows (way back in the 80’s!) to go and watch the cows grazing or sitting in the cubicle on numerous night checks, easy to spot when something is not quite right, either health wise or feed intake or just normal bulling behaviour. We’re seeing
some really interesting behaviour on the trial – something which we cannot disclose as yet – but if you ever come across a spare 15 minutes (chance would be a fine thing!) it is worth observing the herd at grazing.
In addition to our health and welfare section, other monitor areas in the trial include grass covers and quality, ammonia emissions, soil quality, greenhouse gases, nitrate leaching and biosecurity on each site. If you want to pick our brains on this, then give us a call.