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Mob grazing works as a tool to improve pasture and increase stocking rate

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Short duration high-intensity grazing, in which a bunch of cattle are placed on a small area of pasture and moved at least once a day or several times a day to a new section of pasture is often called mob grazing.  

One problem, however, according to Ian Mitchell-Innes, is people have different interpretations of what mob grazing means.

Mitchell-Innes is a holistic management certified educator in South Africa who has been practicing these principles on his own ranch for more than 25 years, while giving talks and short courses around the world.   

The predator-prey relationship

He defines mob grazing as getting animals to move around a pasture at high-stock density to emulate the predator-prey relationship, which was the major factor influencing grazing behavior of herd animals before humans decimated large herds and interposed their own management systems on domesticated ruminants.

In discussing the predator-prey relationship, Mitchell-Innes points out it is difficult for any predator – other than man – to kill wild animals if they are tightly bunched.

To protect themselves from predators, herd animals grazed in tight groups and had to keep moving.

“As a result of continually moving to a new feeding area, only the tops of the growing grasses were eaten, and this is where all of the plant energy is. The rest of the plant was trodden into the ground, where it served as protection for the soil from sun, wind or rain,” explains Mitchell-Innes.  

Capturing energy from the sun 

The plant litter provides food for life in the soil and sequesters carbon.

“If 50 percent of ranchers in the world practiced some form of holistic management such as mob grazing, carbon content of the air could be taken back to pre-industrial levels within five years,” he states. “But, because of the way we’ve managed land, we have destroyed grasses’ ability to capture energy from the sun.” 

Instead, producers graze pastures too continuously and too short, leaving plants with inadequate leaf surface to capture the sun’s energy.

“Energy is what makes animals fat and enables them to be healthy and reproduce. To monitor whether they are doing mob grazing correctly, producers should look at their animals,” he says.  “They have to monitor animal performance as well as the plants.  Without acceptable animal performance, they will go broke.”

“Energy from the sun is free for landowners,” Mitchell-Innes adds. “If we harness it properly by letting grass keep most of its leaves, having our cattle eat just the tops rather than grazing the plants down to the ground or even down to the bottom leaves, it makes us money.”

“Then why are people on the land making less money and becoming bottom feeders of society with all of the money ending up in town?” he asks.  

He believes it’s because ranchers are doing a poor job of capturing all of the free energy with proper grazing methods.

Principles of mob grazing 

“The term mob grazing came into existence when Greg Judy and I were discussing ultra-high-stock-density grazing,” Mitchell-Innes says.  

For the past several years, Mitchell-Innes and Judy have hosted several grazing schools on Judy’s farm in Missouri.  

Mitchell-Innes notes he learned the principles of mob grazing by trial and error on his own farm in South Africa, funding all of his own experiments and working through the problems, using the holistic management decision-making process.  

“There are no predetermined outcomes, as no company will fund my studies,” he says, noting there are no commercial companies interested in this type of grazing system because people on the ground who are doing it correctly don’t need to buy anything.

“If you don’t need balers, tractors, fertilizers, etc. all of a sudden ranching can become exceedingly profitable. I am passionate about getting people on the land making a decent living. My learning through trial and error cost me a lot of money until I figured it out,” he adds.  

Now, Mitchell-Innes spends much of his time traveling around the world teaching other stockmen the basics of mob grazing, to help save them the high costs of trying to stay in business using traditional methods of grazing and haying.

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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