Mob stocking effects on herbage nutritive value, herbage accumulation, and plant species composition
Mob stocking is a variation of rotational stocking known for restricting a large number of animals to a small area before being moved to new grass after a few hours. This method allows a long (90-day) recovery period but was hypothesized to diminish the nutritional value of herbage relative to continuous and rotational stocking with lesser stocking density at similar stocking rates. This thesis summarizes two studies conducted in Blacksburg and Raphine, and in Steeles Tavern, VA, respectively, at a single beef cattle stocking rate of 12 animal unit months per hectare live body weight. The objectives were to: (1) compare the yield and nutritional value of herbage in pastures managed with three stocking methods, termed mob, rotational, and continuous stocking; (2) compare the abundance of seeded clover species among the stocking methods; and (3) estimate the nutritional value of herbage that is consumed by beef cattle during mob stocking using extrusa sampled from esophageally-cannulated animals. Analysis of standing herbage during two years produced several important findings. Although standing herbage mass was significantly greater in mob stocked pastures at Blacksburg and Raphine, aboveground net primary productivity in 2014 did not differ significantly among mob, rotational, and continuous stocking at any of the project locations. Herbage nutritive value did not differ significantly among stocking methods over two years at Blacksburg and Raphine; however, herbage from mob stocked pastures at Steeles Tavern contained significantly greater concentrations of crude protein in September and October relative to herbage from continuous- and rotationally-stocked pastures at those times. Differences in herbage mass likely contributed to significant differences in establishment of seeded clovers: red clover [Trifolium pratense L. Cinnamon Plus] establishment was similar among stocking methods but white clover [Trifolium repens L. Will] establishment was greater in continuously stocked pastures than mob and rotationally stocked pastures. Hand-clipped samples collected at Blacksburg in September 2014 significantly underestimated the crude protein content of the herbage selected by the steers, although the concentrations of fiber constituents in herbage did not differ significantly between clipped samples and esophageal samples. Although the nutritive value of the herbage on offer did not generally differ among stocking methods at this stocking rate, diet selected was at times less nutritious during mob stocking than continuous and rotational stocking methods. At this stocking rate, stocking method had less influence on pastures than seasonal variation in weather and plant maturity.