Greg Judy and his wife, Jan, own Green Pastures Farm in Rucker, Missouri, located 24 miles northwest of Columbia. In 1999, Judy thought he had lost his family farm: He was almost bankrupt with no land, cattle or capital. He decided to start grazing leased cattle on leased land, basically working as a management company for local land owners. With the money he earned, he got himself out of debt and started buying land of his own. By 2009, he was farming full time, and today, he manages 1,620 acres on 16 farms, four of which he owns and 12 he leases.
He raises grass-pastured South Poll cows, parasite-resistant St. Croix hair sheep, Berkshire pigs and chickens, with every animal playing their part to help the land, along with harvesting 2,000 shiitake mushroom logs. Judy has also become an in-demand public speaker, hosting workshops on his land and authoring two books about his work with mob grazing – a type of high-density cattle grazing done with silvopastures that work in balance with nature, requiring very low inputs and capital.
How does mob grazing work? We use hot-wire fencing to create precisely sized paddocks where we need the [cows] to feed. We keep the paddocks small to keep the cattle moving in tight herds, or mobs, which is how animals used to graze in the wild. This does two things: First, it allows the cattle to eat the fresh grasses, legumes and clover, while they fertilize the ground with their own manure and urine. Next, the cows trample the remaining grasses flat, stomping in their waste and planting seeds back into the ground to create a healthy environment to replenish the soil. We move them twice a day, every day, to a new part of the pasture to graze, so they always have fresh grass to eat.
How does mob grazing help raise healthy cows and improve the environment? This is an all-natural grazing process. We try to give the cows what they would find in nature, which in turn [requires] less money and expensive equipment. All we need is hot-wire fencing and clean water to raise these cows, and that means we don’t need to give our cows worming medicine, hormones or grain – a cow is naturally an herbivore, not a “grainivore.” If we are managing our land properly and allowing the cows access to healthy grass, they don’t need anything else. We’re simply trying to mimic what happens in nature to make our land, water and animals healthier.
What are silvopastures and why are they important in the process? Silvopastures are an ancient, but intentional, practice of using trees, forage plants and livestock in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way in the grazing process. You have to observe and study nature to do this. One year you may need to plant more trees, or in our case, remove some, to allow the ground to grow more grass for the cattle to graze on. For us, it also means adding more diversity on the farm by bringing other animals into the grazing equation, such as sheep, pigs and chickens that work together to create better soil, pest control and more climate change mitigation.
Tell us more about the South Poll cattle breed, and why you chose to raise them. We chose to run South Poll cows because they work beautifully being fed only on grass. We have built this herd up from the original 22 head we purchased to more than 370 today. This is a smaller-bodied red cattle breed with a slick hide that keeps them cool in the summer and they put on a little fur to keep them warm in the winter. They’re extremely docile and are always ready to graze.
Green Pastures raises sheep, pigs and chickens, which all play a role in helping to maintain the land.
Pigs: “As part of our silvopasture practice, we have removed some trees to open up the canopy and allow sunlight in to grow plant life around the remaining tree bases, and that’s where we pasture our pigs. We run two batches of pastured Berkshire pigs a year, and we let them loose in the thickest part of the woods once a year, where the other animals won’t go, allowing the timber forage to recover in between. The key to raising pigs is not allowing them to get bored; we have to move them around to different pastures to keep them healthy and active.”
Sheep: “After the cattle are done eating the tops of our soft green grass, we let our St. Croix hair sheep graze on the same paddock. They’ll eat all of the weeds and woody or thorny bushes – things cows won’t touch.”
Chickens: “We have about 600 chickens that we rotate in behind the cows and sheep on the same paddocks. They’re kept inside an electric netting that we can set up and break down easily. The chickens lay down their own fertilizer, and they also scratch the cow and sheep manure, which spreads that rich fertilizer and seed even further. The variety of plant life has gotten much more diverse since we started rotating chickens across our land.”
Green Pastures Farm, 21975 Devil’s Washboard, Rucker, Missouri, greenpasturesfarm.net