Category Archives: FARM

What Is the Greatest Challenge to Being A Grass Farmer?

This article is printed in the most recent issue of The Stockman Grassfarmer and written by our good friend, Jim Gerrish.  For more great articles like this, subscribe to The Stockman Grassfarmer.  If you are interested in an upcoming speaking engagement or prefer private consultation, contact Jim.

What Is the Greatest Challenge to Being A Grass Farmer? By Jim Gerrish

MAY, Idaho,

Allan Nation used the term “grass farmer” to describe a new type of agricultural producer who was something beyond the conventional mold of a farmer or a rancher.

The true grass farmer is someone who understands the foundation of our business is harvesting solar energy and converting it into a salable product.

A grass farmer strives to create a healthy landscape where water infiltrates and does not escape the boundaries of the farm as runoff; someone who understands that life in the soil is as critical to farm production as the life above the soil.

A grass farmer understands the fewer steps you put between your livestock and the direct harvest of solar energy, the more likely it is that you will be profitable.

The true grass farmer is someone who becomes one with their landscape and the life within it.  Grass farming has been described as farming in harmony with nature.  This is contrary to many of the basic tenets of conventional or industrial farming where nature is viewed more as an enemy to be vanquished.  Droughts and floods.  Weeds and bugs, Scorching summer and bitter winter.  All of these are aspects of nature conventional farmers and ranchers do daily battle to overcome.

It is very hard for most conventional farmers to understand grass farmers.  For this lack of understanding grass farmers are often ridiculed, ostracized, and sometimes, sadly, beaten into submission to the gods of iron and oil.  Sometimes that conflict is fought in the local coffee shop, sometimes across the neighbor’s fence line, and sometimes across the kitchen table.

That brings me to the consideration of what is the grass farmer’s greatest challenge.

Four years ago, I received an anonymous letter from a frustrated grass farmer.  It was five pages long and it outlines a 30-year long struggle to convert the family farming operation to an entirely pasture-based grass farming business.  The letter writer asked me to somehow tell this story and try to help other farm families struggling with the same issues find some resolution.

I thought about that letter quite a bit at the time and tried to find something to pull out of it for a monthly column.  I came up empty.

Earlier this year, I spent a day with a farm family and when I left, one of the family members put an envelope in my hand and suggested I read the contents some time later,. I did and, lo and behold, it was the same letter I had received anonymously four years earlier.

Now I had a face and a person to attach the story to.  The victim-less crime now had a victim.  How many times do we experience that in life?  Some issue that never mattered an iota to us becomes a cause when it becomes personal.

I think the greatest challenge to becoming a true grass farmer are those family members who cannot see the farm with the same vision.

If your brother is a crop farmer who sees only gross income, how is he going to switch from growing corn bringing in $1000/acre to a cow-calf operation with a revenue of only $300/acre?  That is a very hard sell.  But, why does he have a job in town?  He says he can’t make it just farming.  When the breakeven cost of growing a bushel of corn is $3.85/bushel and the price is $3.46/bushel, a gross income of $1000 doesn’t pay the bills.

If you have a gross margin of $240/calf and it takes you three acres to run a pair year around, the gross margin per acre is $80.  Which enterprise is actually better for the farm?

As long as your brother looks at gross income rather than gross margin per acre, he will never understand grass farming as a viable business.

When you have been taught all your life to till ground, kill weeds, spray bugs, and take whatever price the elevator offers you, it is hard to understand there is another way to use the farm.

If your culture says land must be divided with a 5-strand barbwire fence on the quarter section line, how can you accept weird shaped pastures created with single polywire?  The whole cultural construct must first change.

As long as the mentality is that is it OK to spend $100,000 for a new tractor but you must buy the cheapest electric fence energizer at the farm and home store, grass farming will not move ahead.  As long as the thought process i that the land rental rate is too high to run cattle on that field so we better plow it up, grass farming will never advance.

When farmers can wrap their heads around the idea that Mother Nature is our friend, then grass farming will move forward.  When we truly believe our mission as stewards of the land is to create a living landscape on every acre of ground we manage, then we will become true grass farmers.

Sadly, that is why we still say we advance only one funeral at a time.

Hate to start the New Year with such a downer thought.  Let’s see what February brings.

 

Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant provide service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally.  He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com.  His books are available from the SGF Bookshelf page 26.  He will present a Stockman Grass Farmer Grassroots of Grazing Schooland a Stockman Grass Farmer Management-Intensive Grazing School in February.  

 

 

They’re Laying!!!

Back home and starting to get settled into regular chores and a few moving ahead projects.  Despite coming home to sub zero temps, 1/4 inch ice, and swirling snow, just two days later it is starting to melt and at 33 degrees F (headed to 44F just before dark), it’s not too bad outside.

While i was gone, my silly Welsummer hens began laying – thank goodness – they are about 7 months old and until this past week had laid not one single egg!  Apparently, they had not read the book that they are a breed which starts laying at 5-6 months.  Granted, i am willing to give them a pass because i did accept them after June 8 (because of Nathan and Heather’s wedding and knowing we would be gone, i didn’t want baby chicks around), so that put them going into the shorter days which is typically when hens start laying fewer eggs.  And these gals are truly pastured hens and never on a high powered ration.  But when 6 months rolled around, i’m thinking they ought to be laying something!  I  checked them and most had developed the visible and measurable signs of being mature enough – yet no eggs.

Here’s the lovely dozen eggs i found this morning!  In the photo, the lighter colored one is from a purchased dozen of eggs from the store which say they are on pasture.  Here’s the interesting part, that store bought egg is considered a large egg yet is very similar in size and weight of these first eggs laid by my hens.  In other words, my hens didn’t start with pullet sized eggs, they started in with mediums and larges!  And beautiful shell color.

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Remember that the color of the shell has nothing to do with the quality of the egg nor does it tell you anything about how the hen was raised. The color of the yolk can be darkened by the ration fed to a caged hen  (marigold and/or corn).  Anyway, my hen’s eggs were all frozen, so these first ones will have to be thrown away since they could be contaminated because of cracking.  But maybe we’ll get some today to collect.

Stay warm and have fun!

tauna

Welsummer pullets hard at work keeping spiders and crickets from getting into the house last fall (2019).

 

Fundo Panguilemu, Coyhaique, Chili

I cannot do justice to the sweet hospitality of this young family.  Our Savory Institute journey group is here to learn about the improvements they have experienced using the holistic management techniques.  The grass is thick, lush, and tender – rested paddocks are ready for consuming.

 

 

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Regenerative farm owner and operator, Jose,  (who is also a holistic management instructor) gave us an excellent overview on how they’ve managed their farm and improved the sward and healed the soil substantially in only 6 years using managed grazing of cattle and sheep.
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No bare soil in this thick sward.
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Thick stand of grass after 45 days rest.
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Elizabeth, also owner of the farm and a holistic management instructor keeps all the balls in the air on this stunning cattle and sheep farm/pastured egg laying/horse trekking/firewood gathering/wildlife viewing/fly fishing/mountain biking/yurt accommodation/HMI training site.  Oh, did i mention she also is raising 2 wonderful little children as well as training interns who show up from around the world to help on the farm?
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How about a unique stay on a working farm?! And talk about a view!  Excellent fly fishing available here on the edge of the Simpson River.  Contact Elizabeth at Fundo Panguilemu.
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Lookout Paddock provides excellent overview of paddock layout.  Note cattle and sheep grazing in lower left paddock.
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For my Missouri friends, you will be surprised to know that many of the grasses and forbes are the same as what we graze.  This is a photo of the rose bush that we also have growing, but no multiflora rose here.

Waiting

Whilst waiting for my next flight out of Santiago and no internet the next couple of days, i’ll post a quick blog that is a reminder that farming and ranching is not the glamorous career choice some think.  Now, my photos are tiny inconveniences.

 

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Scooping out a water tank that filled with mud

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170 cows with calves can make a quick mess even on top of the hill after only a 2 inch rain when there is frost in the ground.
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The cows rolled a small bit of hay over the fence and smashed it – Unfortunately, one of these posts broke at ground level, so i had to replace it.
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But with a viewshed like this…..
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And evening sunsets like this….. i have no reason to complain.

Cheers!

tauna

RMC’S Sustainable Management

You  may not agree with every precept promoted by Ranch Management Consultants (Ranching for Profit) or those of any expert in the ranch/farm management or sustainable/regenerative camp, but fundamental thoughts work for nearly any endeavor.

RMC’s Ten Fundamental Truths of Sustainable Ranching

  1. TRANSFORMING your business BEGINS WITH TRANSFORMING yourself

    Transforming your ranch into an effective business involves changes in land management, animal husbandry, money management and in the way you interact with the people in your business. But the biggest change isn’t to the land or the animals. The biggest change is in you.

     

  2. IT ISN’T SUSTAINABLE if it isn’t  PROFITABLE

    Profit is to business as breathing is to life. A ranch that doesn’t produce an economic profit isn’t a business. It’s a hobby … an expensive hobby.

     

  3. FOCUS ON effectiveness NOT EFFICIENCY

    Efficiency and effectiveness are not the same thing. It doesn’t do any good to do things right if you are doing the wrong things! If something is efficient, but not effective, stop it immediately!

     

  4. GET IN SYNCH with nature

    Most ranch businesses are structured to fight nature. That’s expensive and exhausting. Businesses that match enterprises and production schedules to nature’s cycles are more profitable, less work and more fun!

     

  5. YOU DON’T GET harmony WHEN EVERYONE SINGS THE SAME NOTE

    In any business, especially family businesses, there are bound to be differences of opinion. Our decisions are improved when we bring different perspectives and ideas to the table and engage in constructive debate, as long as we agree that, at the end of the day, we all ride for the brand.

     

  6. WORK LESS and  make more

    Unsustainable effort is unsustainable. Period! Planning is the key to simplifying enterprises, increasing profit and reducing labor.

     

  7. RANCHING is a business

    We often act as though we have a choice between ranching as a lifestyle or a business. The lifestyle of ranching improves when the ranch is a successful business first.

     

  8. WORK ON YOUR BUSINESS two mornings a week

    It’s not enough to work IN your business, you must work ON your business.

     

  9. WEALTHY on the balance sheet & BROKE AT THE BANK

    The misallocation of capital is the biggest financial problem in ranching. At the Ranching For Profit School you’ll learn how to capitalize and concessionize assets to increase profit and improve the financial health of your business.

     

  10. RANCHING FOR PROFIT is NOT an oxymoron

    Many ranchers seem to think that profit is dictated by prices and weather…two things beyond our direct control. Ranching for Profit graduates prove every year that the key to profit is management.

    Blessing!

    tauna

Cover Crop Considerations

A hot topic in regenerative farming circles these past few years is the use of cover crops.  Do they have a place in ‘modern’ farming practices.  Modern mostly meaning supply/demand/government subsidies/market considerations.  Modern farming practices currently are very hard on soil health and microbes.

Nevertheless, there are some farmers who had embraced cover cropping decades ago with huge successes in improving soils and yields, some are just now dipping their toes in the ‘new’ (actually ancient) practice, and still others staunchly refuse to consider them.

These principles have been around for centuries, but more recently promoted by Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown, Jay Fuhrer, Jon Srika, and others

Five Principles of Soil Health:

  1. Limit Disturbance – limit mechanical, chemical, and physical disturbance of soil.  Widespread tillage destroys soil structure and function.
  2. Keep the Soil Covered – maintain an armor of plant residue on the soil surface.  Residue can inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature, reduce erosion, reduce evaporation, and provide organic matter for soil microbes.
  3. Promote and Build Diversity – incorporating cover crops or diversifying your crop rotation or both!  The synergy of diverse root exudates improves soil health.
  4. Keep Living Roots in the Soil – keep living roots in the soil for as many months as possible.  Converting solar energy to biological energy feeds mycorrhizal fungi.  Miles of roots hold soil in place and increases water holding capacity.
  5. Integrate Animals – Properly managed grazing animals taking a bite of grass pumps more carbon back into the system.  Slobber, urine, manure, biting and ripping grasses, all add so much to the system, it’s impossible to discuss in this short blog.

For full stories and explanation of these five principles, i highly recommend Gabe Brown’s excellent book, Dirt to Soil.  

Shalom!

 

Top 5 Business Management Actions on the Farm/Ranch

This reblogged from Ranch Management Consultants.

Top 5 Business Management Actions on the Farm/Ranch

by Dallas Mount

As we wrap up 2019, I want to share with you what comes to the top of my mind as actions that farms and ranches take when they are serious about their business management. If you are hitting the mark on these, well done! If not, then what will your strategy be to improve in 2020?

1.Effective Communication –
Have regular WITB (operational) meetings and WOTB (strategic) meetings. For WITB they should be brief, focused and end with something written down in a visible spot, listing who is doing what by when. For WOTB meetings they need to be focused with limited distractions, allow for creative thought, be inclusive and also end with an action plan.

2.Clear Roles and Accountability –
Are all the roles of your business being filled? Is ownership clearly setting the mission and vision? Is management developing plans that include strategies with contingencies and communicating those to everybody? Is labor effectively balancing all the duties and working with the end in mind? Most farms and ranches are owned and labored while few are effectively managed.

3.Plans Developed and Communicated –
Does your business have the following plans written down:
Economic plan showing the projected profit for the coming year.
Financial plan which shows the projected cash flow for the coming year.
Grazing plan that shows where the animals will be, for how long, planned rest periods and planned stocking rate.
Disaster plan for drought, fire, blizzards, or floods.
Organization structure listing who is responsible for each aspect of the business.

4.Professional Development – What is the plan for the coming year? What areas does the business need training in? Each key person should develop their own professional development plan for the coming year and get buy-in from the business leadership.

5.Healthy Balance of Work and Life – If you are spending all your time putting out fires in the business something has to change. Sure, we all go through periods of super-human effort, but if this is the norm it isn’t sustainable. If you want different results, you must take different actions.

From all of us at RMC, thank you for your support over this past year. We are so blessed to get to work with some of the best people in the world who are taking care of God’s creation and feeding the people.

Best wishes for a joyful and prosperous 2020!

 

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