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Greg Judy at PV1 - Profitable Methods Used to Heal the Land with Mob Grazing

Posts: 3357
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
hugelkultur urban chicken food preservation bike bee
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Me again!

So, are you sad that you didn't get to go to the Permaculture Voices conference? Did you go but you can't remember what was said? Well, I am an obsessive note taker (most of the time) and I took notes at most of the talks I attended.

I will share them here with you!

Please note that this is in no way a transcription. These are my notes, taken in real time, on the fly, whilst trying to look at the slides and follow along. I find that note taking helps me synthesize information. None of this should be construed as an accurate quotation, even when I put it in quotes. (For example, I'm pretty sure not a single speaker used the utterance "Yo.") Much of the time, I am trying to summarize and it's entirely possible that I've gotten some things wrong.

My next notes document is Greg Judy. The topic this time was "Profitable Methods Used to Heal the Land with Mob Grazing"


Greg Judy

We were doing everything wrong in the early 90’s and I was going bankrupt. I loved the land, I loved the animals, and I thought there had to be some way for me to do what I love to do. I was down to my last $8, in a terrible ordeal that was taking all my income (a divorce).

I started running animals on other people’s land! I began to build a nest egg. There are people who want you to graze their land.

I was doing Management Intensive Grazing—grazing the plants when they are tender and green. We were taught to hit the plant when it’s the size of your finger. We can’t let the grass go to seed! It worked great until the drought in July. We had to ship cattle every summer. What do people do who own their cows? They feed hay.

I met a guy in Africa doing “mob grazing” Alan Savory calls it holistic high intensity grazing. (He’s not fond of the mob term.)

We are talking about healing the land with animals. We’ve got to get the animals back on the land. This (pic) is land that I drove by (idle) my whole life. I first leased it when I was 37 years old. “Your first purpose in life should not be to own the land, but to control the land.”
I went to the county courthouse, I found the owner, he was in Texas. We got a 10 year lease. After a year, the guy came up, saw what were doing, tore up the lease and said “you have a lifetime lease.” He saved my life. He gave me back the lease money.

Picture of cattle with green plants up to their shoulders. Folks say “it looks like you let your grass get a little tall.” He says yeah, that’s a beautiful thing. Think how many tons of carbon are in there.

We’ve taken a lovely animal that can live on solar energy (the cow) and turned her into a fossil fuel machine.

Plant diagram: we just want them to take the tips of the leaves. That’s the candy, where the energy is highest in the plant.

Where to start? Focus on animal performance first: you cannot save the world until you save yourself! If you are out of business, you won’t be doing much grazing. Yes, there are all sorts of marvelous things that can happen, but if you mistreat your animals for just a few days, she will not give you a calf next year.

Full Recovery Period. Grazing immature plants will slow the regrowth. The boot stage is right when you can see the bulge of where the seed head is going to come out. That’s the perfect time to graze it. Only take the top third. When the cows can hit a field like this (picture of grass with seed heads) they are doing well.

Picture: same field, trampled grass. Note: we didn’t take it all.

Feed Soil and your livestock. You’ve got to monitor daily grazing patterns. You’ll see fresh trampled litter on the soil. You need to look for proper gut fill on the left side of the animal in front of the hip bone.

Picture: cows with poor gut fill - you can see a shadow in front of the left hip on each cow. If you can fit a coffee cup in that hollow for more than one day, she will stop making good milk.

Q: can you see this on other animals? Yes, you can see it on sheep. Goats. I don’t want to talk about goats. (laughter) If you can throw water through a fence, it won’t hold a goat.

You need to stand on the left side of the fence opening when you move the cows to a new spot, so you can watch that left side as they go by.

Picture: cow with the “death triangle.” Triangle formed by the spine, the last rib and the bottom of that non filled gut hollow.

Stay away from cows with long legs. If you can open up a newspaper under that animal, don’t buy her. You want short legs, belly dragging on the grass.

Minature cattle. Yeah, be careful, as long as you can market them. Those little guys, they can look at grass and stay fat, but they will kill you if you take them to the market. (Sounds like people don't buy them.) If you’re selling commodity, be careful. For your own family to eat, sure, they're great.

Picture: “proper gut fill” Black and white cattle. Consider getting light colored animals if you are in a place that gets hot. If you’re in Montana, Minnesota, sure, have the black animals. I know that black is hot right now, but. . . .

Make changes slowly: less stress on the livestock and on yourself. This way your mistakes will not cost as much.

Ian came in to see what we were doing. I was still working in town. We had herds on three farms in a five mile circle. Ian said “what you’re doing is not sustainable.” You are moving cattle twice a day and working all day in town. You’re either going to burn out, drop dead, or your wife is going to divorce you. You’ve got to combine those herds of cattle. Put an ad in the local paper that you’re going to have a cattle drive, with a bonfire and music. Charge people $250/head to help you move cattle! (laughter) OK, they didn’t do that.

But he said, make this change slowly. He didn’t follow that instruction. He combined all the herds that very day. You know what I did that night? I went horseback riding with my wife. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of ONE HERD.

What level of density? Start at lower stocking densities and work up. To calculate this, you need to know the weight of your herd.

Monitor cow health. Check out the coat. Picture of a cow’s neck with lovely shiny fur, natural part at the ridge, lush thick fur and hardly any flies. If you would rub your hand on her, it would come back oily. The other cows have hundreds of flies on them. She is making a lot of oil and it drives away flies.

Planned daily moves. Keep it simple, start with one move per day. The higher the stocking density, the more mob moves required per day, but as you begin, it can be less frequent. The more frequent you move them, the faster you will build soil.

Stupid professor: mob grazing doesn’t work - we put them in at 1 million pounds/acre and the paddock was destroyed the next day.


Observe the mob. do they act satisfied, limited bawling, proper rumen fill, limited health issues. Once they get into a new place, they should settle in and put their head down and graze. If they’re walking around, you need to figure out why. Check your water.

If you’re going to sell grass finished beef, just please finish the animals. Picture of “Finished beef.” He looks so darn full, it looks like his britches are going to pop. When we walks, he should waddle. Look at those wrinkles at the base of the tail and all up the neck.

Things to look for.

grazed area extending past the hot wire (too long)
bare soil (too much)
spot grazing (too little)
trailing (too long)

Picture: pasture looks like mowed lawn and they’ve reached under the hot wire. You’ve left them there too long!

Trails: he will give new strips of pasture daily, he doesn’t “back fence” The cows will keep walking back to the water tank. This will work up to three days. Four days of this and you’re getting a trail—bare soil.

If he had “us” (pretending we’re cattle) in pasture, it would be like 750,000 to a million lb density. (This room is PACKED!) He’d have us here maybe 5-10 minutes. It’s not the density, it’s the time on the land. However, you come back to that spot four weeks later and you will the difference in the color.

The protein is higher in the lower portion of the plant. Don’t feed that to your animals.

Reading the Pasture After Grazing.

There should be enough forage left in the paddock for one more day of grazing without removing the ground litter.

Q: I’m on an old Christmas tree farm with no soil.
We had a property like that. We left it fallow for six months and it grew up, but looked awful. The land owner bought 200 bales of hay (round bales). We unrolled them all on one day. Then, we strip grazed it. We lost maybe 30% to trampling, but it was winter time—it didn’t rot, it was too cold.

Weeds mine deep into the subsoil. If you can get an animal to eat it, that’s not a weed, that’s forage.

Q: Do you take out any poisonous weeds?
No. It is my belief that cattle will not intentionally kill themselves. You do that. Don’t make them stay too long. (because then they might eat the poisonous stuff)

If you are not happy with your graze, move them, don’t make them clean it up. The high energy plants are gone, the animals will lose condition. They will go back and regraze the good stuff. The "not good" plants are now at an advantage. Just move them.

Let’s say you have a patch of weeds or oak sprouts. Mob them in there at a million pounds/acre and take an hour break. Your abused spot will look like a feedlot! Then move them into a nice paddock.

We’ve doubled our stocking rate in the past 6 years. That’s like someone giving us a whole new farm.

Dr. (edit) Elaine Ingham is working with us, we’re going to try some soil amendments, some compost tea. We’ll be able to double the stocking rate again. We’ll have such a high brix rate the cattle will be so fat!

You want the right ratio of bacteria to fungi in your soil.

Every farm has a layer of hardpan—ours is at 8-9 inches. That was how deep the plow could reach (in the past). To break through, we’ve got to get rid of the anaerobic microbes at the hard pan. Stay tuned to greenpasturesfarm.net No, we’re not going to do any subsoiling. We don’t have a tractor. No, I can’t say exactly what we’re doing.

We started out with 4.5 acres/animal unit. Now we are at 1.8 acres/animal unit. An animal unit is 1000lbs. 5 200lb sheep, 1 1000lb cow. We have about 250 cattle and 250 sheep, maybe 6 hogs and an egg mobile. Come back tomorrow to talk about multi-species work.

Are we keeping our bulls in with the mob? Yes. And, we don’t buy bulls any more.

As the animals change weight, is that changing your stocking density? Yes. You have to keep watching the pasture. I can’t give you a recipe. It rains. And then, it doesn’t rain. Watch the plants! You have to let the plants recover before you put any animals back. In spring, that might be 30 days. In July, it might be 120 days.

With grass fed beef, you don’t want to slaughter the animal too young. You need a lot of fat on that animal.

How much of the toughness of grass fed beef comes from after butchering. Doesn't aging help? Yes, but not more than 10-13 days. A lot of toughness is genetic.

What about being in Southern California? Same thing, you just have to adjust the stocking rate.

170K PSI high tensile wire is our perimeter fence. We work with 20-40 acre paddocks, using polywire on a reel. You need to get geared reels with a 3:1 ratio.

Your grass gets away from you in the spring. Don’t freak out, bank it, don’t hay it. (Sell your tractor.) Leave out several paddocks in your grazing rotation. Use them as a savings account for later in the season. Bank a third of the farm—don’t touch it. When you’ve got the drought in August, head over to your bank account. Yeah, it’s not as delicious as the spring pasture, but it’s better for them than hay.

Picture: mature paddock grazed in a July drought. She looks good, she’s nursing a calf.

Hay: sell your baler. There are people who love baling hay. Let them bale hay. Have a couple of weeks of hay ready for emergencies. In Missouri, if we get an ice storm with 3” of ice, there is no grazing that can happen. Now you feed hay. You’re bringing carbon onto your farm.

Monitor your plants in a drought. If you’ve grazed a spot and you come back and your plants aren’t growing, get rid of a few cows. Don’t name your cows. Act fast, and you won’t lose as much.

Limit your number of herds: multiple herds will limit your recovery times. Mob them together and keep them moving.

Q: how few will work? A: We had a guy doing a great job with one milk cow, he had her on a 90 foot rope and kept moving the stake.

Larger herds have greater impact. Even better would be the stampede effect, but that takes predators.

Mistakes to avoid: taking too much of the plant, neglecting animal performance,

Slick hair coat: in the summer, your cows need to go short haired, to keep cool. Picture of shiny coated cattle. Teddy noticed the cows that slicked off first in the spring are the ones that bred back every year.

Are your cattle licking at the water? They should lower their head and take deep gulps. If cows have runny stools they need more water.

Picture: cattle tank with hot wire over it and a swimming pool chlorinating tablet suspended a foot under water. He builds a device with a closed bottle on top, string holding the juice bottle with slits cut in it in the middle, brick on the bottom. One ounce tablet treats 200 gallons of water. If you have a 50 gallon tank, break that tablet into quarters.

When it rains a lot, spread the herd out, move them more frequently. He puts a mat in front of the water tank, cut from the side wall of a tractor tire, where the front hooves hit the ground. That mat weighs 100lb.

Yeah, that hot wire will keep the bull from messing with the tank. It’s got to have 10,000 volts, though.

He’s got a portable 60 gallon tank with a Jobe megaflow. It works with pressurized water. For gravity flow get the Gallagher float.

Pic: cows working for a living. They are grazing in the snow.
Pic: mature high energy plants. Look at the diversity there, folks. No, we don’t seed anything. There’s never been a seeding in history that has paid for itself. Mother nature does it best. When you get the litter on the ground, you will bring up the earthworms.

If you are cutting down forest and you’re in a hurry ok maybe you could seed. Look at what’s growing on the road bank and plant that.

Plant diversity. More is better.

Free choice minerals. There are 8 boxes on each side each with a different mineral. The cows lift up that black cover and they stick their nose in to what they want. Over time, that mineral builds up in the soil and we don’t need to give as much mineral.

Sheep don’t need minerals like cows do. They like broad leaved plants. The only mineral we give them is salt.

Pic of cow pat - this one is a little runny. Next pick - folks, this one’s good enough to put in a cereal bowl, put some milk on it and eat it. (laughter) Learn to spread cow pats. If it looks like this one, that’s a healthy animal.

Pic: tree swallow house with swallows on it. These love to eat flies. Not barn swallows, tree swallows. They’re like miniature purple martins. 6 foot pole, set them 100 feet apart. Bird box is made of cedar from the farm. Check out treeswallowblog.com

Any other fly control? No, we don’t medicate them, we don’t deworm them. If we did that we’d kill the dung beetles. If you can get the liquid out of the manure pat within 48 hours, those flies won’t hatch.

Yes, we do give salt. We feed loose salt, the block leads to fighting. We are in a mineral deficient area. Those old timers plowing downhill, they stripped all the minerals out of the land.

80% of the cost of running a cow is encountered in the non-growing season. It’s so important to have stuff for them to eat in the winter other than hay. How much will you let them “suffer” in winter? Our cows go into the winter at a condition of 7, and, I don’t think he finished that statement.

We don’t remove the calves from our cows. One year we decided to stop doing that. We had to lose some cows who couldn’t deal with this. All of our current cows can manage this on their own.

People ask “what percentage of your farm do you stockpile?” I stockpile my whole farm. If you are grazing correctly, things should work out.

Increase your stocking density, not the stocking rate!

If you are in California, in a drought, you might need to go two years in between grazing a particular spot.

I live in western washington and it’s so wet I can’t get them out in the winter. You need to use stockers, 400lb calves. You need a lighter animal. Sell him when he gets big. You’re selling grass. You’re not married to that animal. sell it.

OK, this is cool. We got 10 years for free.
Creating Open Savannah. pic of cows with some trees around and over them. He ran cattle through the forest, turned it into savannah. The cows pulled down the lower branches, now there’s grass growing between the trees.

Pic: lovely flowing creek. Cattle don’t destroy creeks, unless you keep them on it for too long.

Pic: brand new earth moving tire as a watering tank. It hold 800 gallons. We lay it down, pour some concrete in there.

Pic: we let the cattle in to the pond, ran a hot wire about 2 feet in to keep them from going well into the pond.

Pic: dung beetle castles. don’t worm your cattle, you kill the dung beetles.

Pic: trampled grass left behind. For every grass blade you trample on the ground, you get two back. It’s not wasted. Learn to love to feed the soil.
Pic: 4 weeks later. New growth coming up over the trampled grass.

Pic: 4 wheeler with a stack of tread-in fence poles. The best are O-Brian. We sharpen them to a pencil point with a grinder. They go right into the soil with no effort. Don’t throw them at anyone.

How do you make a living on the farm? You’ve got to have grass adapted genetics.

Do you provide shade? Yes, if it’s over 90 degrees, we provide shade. My good grass genetic animals will eat in the heat. The higher the humidity, the more you will need shade. 100% humidity and cattle can die. What for shade? Trees. Build a temporary lane to some trees.

Litter holds water. Never have bare soil. It has a 90% evaporation rate and it sheds rainwater.
Earthworms are nature’s plows. One earthworm can produce 1.2 million worms in its 7 year lifespan.
25 earthworms per sq ft = one ton per acre. Worm castings have a pH of 7.
Posts: 4665
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Thanks Julia. This is a new person for me to watch.

Here is a video of a talk he did.

Posts: 3610
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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This is an awesome set of videos, Greg and a bunch of students sitting around the table drinking coffee and someone started filming. It is hard to hear in parts but worth it.
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Lots of visuals here, the video will help where text alone is insufficient.

Also, I'm pretty sure he meant Dr. Elaine Ingham, not Dr. Laura (Schlessinger) or Laura Ingraham.
Julia Winter
Posts: 3357
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
hugelkultur urban chicken food preservation bike bee
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Miles - thanks, I watched that video of Greg Judy some time ago and that's what made me want to go watch him, even though I don't own grazing land or grazing animals! I just love him, he's so fun to listen to.

Chad - thanks for the heads up, I edited my notes. That could have been me making that mistake - I think Dr. Ingham hadn't spoken yet at that point. I heard her three hour soil workshop was awesome, but then I would have missed Mark Shepard and another Greg Judy, and Adam Klaus talking about biodynamics!
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Julia Winter wrote:Miles - thanks, I watched that video of Greg Judy some time ago and that's what made me want to go watch him, even though I don't own grazing land or grazing animals! I just love him, he's so fun to listen to.

Chad - thanks for the heads up, I edited my notes. That could have been me making that mistake - I think Dr. Ingham hadn't spoken yet at that point. I heard her three hour soil workshop was awesome, but then I would have missed Mark Shepard and another Greg Judy, and Adam Klaus talking about biodynamics!

That is why I end up buying the videos/mp3's of almost every conference I go to. And any I missed that the reviews from people there make me regret it.

I just couldn't swing a trip this time of year even if I did have the money.
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Thanks for this interview. I got a few details. I'm disappointed about the goats though. In Comeback Farms (by Greg), he talks about having goats. He seemed to have success then keeping them in. Obviously things have changed.

We're going on a pasture walk of his farm in 1 month. I may do a write up then with some follow up questions.

Julia Winter
Posts: 3357
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
hugelkultur urban chicken food preservation bike bee
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I'd love to hear about what you see!
this is supposed to be a surprise, but it smells like a tiny ad:
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