Popular convention in the UK and elsewhere says that grass should be grazed at the three-leaf stage. Beyond this, it either puts up a seedhead or, as it puts out a fourth leaf, the first one dies, so three is the magic number.
Popular convention is wrong!
Neil Dennis is a Saskatchewan farmer who runs cattle in mobs of 1,000 head. He packs them in tight and moves them every couple of hours - more on this in a later post. He's been mob grazing for a decade now and he says his land has changed out of all recognition.
One of the most noticeable changes has been to the growing patterns of his grass plant. As the mob grazing has improved the soil, the plants have been able to put down deeper roots. This has meant they are less drought prone in the 12-15" annual rainfall area that is south-eastern Saskatchewan. They also have a much longer recovery time between grazings so can develop fully.
Neil says the result is that they are no longer stressed, and a plant that isn't being stressed doesn't have to enter the reproductive phase, it can just carry on putting out new leaves. Not just any old leaves either, Neil's claims that the leaves have got broader, longer and 'juicier' (a technical term, based on the high sugar content measured using a Brix refracometer!) really appears to hold water. The picture below shows a grass plant, picked at random, from a field that had had 60 days rest.
The first leaf had indeed died off - it can be seen as the shrivelled up brown thing near the base of the stem. However, the plant had subsequently gone on to grow 13 more leaves, ALL of which were still green and busy capturing sunlight!
13 leaves! For those who are poor at maths, that's ten more than under the conventional rotational grazing practiced in the UK. So each plant has four times as much leaf area as conventional grazed ground would see. Extrapolate this up and an acre of ground being mob grazed by Neil would have 4 times the amount of feed. Juicy feed. Excellent feed.
Three leaf grazing is dead. Long live 13 leaf grazing!