Tag Archives: grazing

Can Oat Growing Make A Comeback!

Mostly  i’m posting this article because it is particular interest to me as a grower – although we are also consumers of oats, not only to eat for ourselves, but also because it is hands down the best grain, along with barley, for livestock and poultry.   Growing small grains can be an important soil amendment as long as livestock integration is part of the rotation.

Thanks to Successful Farming magazine for this great article.

Oats Find A Fit

 

OATS FIND A FIT

Back in 2018,Wayne Koehler’s golden-hue oats just north of his house were rapidly nearing harvest.

“It was along the highway, so they were very visible,” says the Charles City, Iowa, farmer. “I had some people stop and ask if I wanted to sell my oats to them. I’ve never had anyone stop and ask about buying corn and soybeans. It was clear that there was a demand that was not being met.”

OAT BENEFITS 

At one time, oat fields were as common as the corn and soybean fields that now dominate the Midwestern landscape. In 1950, Iowa farmers grew 6.619 million acres of oats. In 2019, though, Iowa-intended oat plantings limped along at a paltry 135,000 acres.

Still, oats have a number of benefits in complementing a rotation of corn and soybeans.

 Disrupting weed cycles. “It can enable farmers to get ahead of problem weeds that can develop herbicide resistance,” says Alisha Bower, Practical Farmers of Iowa strategic initiatives manager.

 Scavenging nitrates. The fibrous root system of oats can soak up unused nitrates from nitrogen (N) applications. “This keeps nitrates from flowing into tile lines and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico,” says Bower.

 Spreading labor. Since farmers plant and harvest small grains earlier than corn and soybeans, they can better spread their labor over the growing season, says Bower.

 Complementing yields of other rotational crops. A long-term USDA-ARS trial at the North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings, South Dakota, showed a 24% yield spike for corn when no-tilled in a four-year diverse rotation vs. a corn-soybean rotation.

Koehler grew up with oats on his family’s farm. In the 1980s, though, oats exited many crop rotations. One reason was the 1980s farm crisis, Koehler believes. Some farmers also phased out livestock, and those who stayed built confinement housing that did not use as much oat straw for bedding, he says.

Still, oats surfaced on Koehler’s farm in the early 2000s, when he used oats as a nurse crop for hay. Nurse crops help suppress weeds and protect the soil as the forage crop establishes itself.

Several years later in 2009, Koehler aimed to tile 50 acres of his farm. “Getting a tile contractor in the fall is a challenge, because everyone wants them then,” he says. Planting oats on that field enabled him to access a tiling contractor after August harvest, when tiling contractors are less busy.

He also sells straw to dairy farmers out of the field at harvest. He stores the balance of his oat crop and sells in the fall and winter to various buyers.

MANAGEMENT 

“If you look at the cost of inputs for oats, it is completely different from corn,” says Koehler. Iowa State University crop budgets for 2019 peg variable costs for corn yielding 218 bushels per acre following soybeans at $379.44 per acre. Variable costs for oats are much less at $150.75 per acre if seeded with alfalfa.

Still, it’s not a plant-it-and-forget-it crop, Koehler says. Wet and humid conditions help trigger crown rust. This fungal disease can be dodged somewhat by selecting tolerant varieties, says Koehler. Timely applications of fungicides can help farmers manage crown rust.

Koehler considers a field’s weed seed bank when selecting oat fields. “Giant ragweed and Canada thistle are usually the most troublesome weeds,” he says. If necessary, he spot-sprays 2,4-D amine or MCPA herbicide early postemergence. Adequate seeding rates also help deter weeds. “Don’t cheat on the seeding rate if you are growing oats for grain,” he says.

Lodging concerns also exist. “If you apply too much nitrogen, the stalks will not support the oats,” he says. “So, I’m pretty conservative on N, adding about 50 pounds per acre.”

MACHINERY

“The equipment issue is certainly a challenge, but one that can be solved without too much effort,” says Bower. A booming cover crop seed market has created more availability of drills that farmers can rent if they just want to test oats on a few acres, she adds.

Swathers are another story. Oats go through a sweating period following harvest when they shed moisture. Swathing enables this process to occur in the field, rather than risking spoilage if it occurs in a bin.

“Swathers in good working order are few and far between,” she says.

Storing oats in a grain bin with an aeration floor and adequate fan and vents can also remove moisture when straight-combining oats, Koehler says.

Oats aren’t for everyone, Koehler says. Still, they may fit certain farms.

“Oats can work on farms that have the equipment and the markets,” he says.

OAT MARKETS

Finding markets can be a challenge for oats, but several outlets exist, says Alisha Bower, strategic initiatives manager for Practical Farmers of Iowa.

  • Food-grade oats. These markets aim at human consumption products like oatmeal. Bower says processing plants like Grain Millers at St. Ansgar, Iowa, exist to buy food-grade oats from Minnesota and Iowa farmers.

Buyers pay a premium for food-grade oats. There’s a hitch, though, since farmers have to meet test weight and protein levels.

“In Iowa, there’s no problem with hitting protein specifications  due to its rich soils,” says Bower. “But meeting test weight standards of 38 pounds per bushel is a challenge.”

Hot weather during head fill can crimp test weight. That’s why oat farmers plant early in order to dodge summer heat. Last year, Wayne Koehler, a Charles City, Iowa, farmer drilled no-till oats on April 9.

“Even if the soil is a little on the sticky side, you want to push the envelope by planting early,” he says.

  • Livestock feed markets. Oats that don’t meet human consumption standards can make livestock feed. Although prices paid are less, protein and test weight standards are lower. Outlets include smaller livestock producers and ones as large as Smithfield, which is buying oats and wheat at its Allerton and Davis City locations in southern Iowa in 2020, says Bower.
  • Cover crop seed markets. This market can be more lucrative than livestock feed, though there are many regulations to meet, Bower says. High germination is key, she adds.
  • Commodity grain markets. Granted, unit trains for elevators to fill with oats don’t exist as they do for corn or soybeans. Still, some elevators will accept oats, even if they don’t advertise it or put out bids, says Bower. They use it for markets like creep feed for cattle, she adds.

VARIETAL INVESTMENT 

Seed and chemical companies have poured billions of dollars into corn hybrids and soybean varieties. Oats? Not so much.

“Oats and other small grains could really benefit from additional investment in research and development,” says Alisha Bower, Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) strategic initiatives manager.

PFI, supported by General Mills, Grain Millers, Inc., and Albert Lea Seed, is conducting oat varietal performance trials. Meanwhile, public breeding programs still exist across the Upper Midwest.

PFI is working with public breeding programs to create a varietal selection tool for farmers. “Farmers could put in their ZIP code, and the program would predict what variety would perform best in their area,” Bower says.

This tool will be beta tested in 2020. If you’d like to get involved, contact info@practicalfarmers.org.

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Late Evening Repair

I completely forgot to check and repair a water gap along Cotton Road which was in a paddock in which i had a young cow get out last time the mob was in this paddock.  She was the only one to get out, thankfully.  Anyway,  despite having driven the 35 minutes and shifting the cows that morning, i had to go back in the evening to check the gap.  Especially since it is adjacent to a cemetery.  I thought i’d just run up in my pickup since it’s faster, but she was out and had taken a friend with her!  Cotton Road is not passable by pick up, so i had to drive back home and get my Gator and some more tools.

The two escapees had drifted into the cemetery instead of continuing west down Cotton Road which made it MUCH easier and quicker to walk them back into the paddock.  Very thankful they were not yet near the tombstones.  I’ve had to pay for repairs in the past and i sure didn’t want another round of that!

Made it back up there before dark and drove a steel t-post and dropped this heavy section of an old hay feeder.  About a week ago, i had cut down these hedge tree sprouts and they were laying nearby, so i dragged them to lay in there as well just to discourage any lounging.  Hedge trees are covered with tiny thorns.

Next day, i needed to check to be certain my repairs had stopped the escapees and thankfully, they had.

 

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Jim Gerrish puts it all together!

Here is a podcast Jim did with Charlie Arnott when he and Dawn were in Australia earlier in the year. Charlie is a biodynamic farmer/grazier located in New South Wales who also produces podcasts related to regenerative ag, human health, and an array of other current topics.

This serious yet lighthearted conversation covers a lot of ground. We hope you choose to listen & enjoy it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orRLYqSQQEM

 

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In this episode Charlie chats to the American grazier and educator Jim Gerrish. Jim takes us on his regenerative journey and recalls the moment, when he realised that the aroma of freshly turned/ ploughed ground he had always liked growing up was in fact the smell of the earth dying…this proved to be the turning point in his life. Jim’s journey is a captivating one which touches on human health & diet, food definitions, changing farm practices and a whole lot more. To start a dialogue and converse more about topics raised in this podcast, please visit The Regenerative Journey podcast Facebook group. Episode Takeaways We don’t need feedlots. We just need people who have grazing management skills to take a pasture and turn it into delightful beef | In research we don’t call it a cow pie/cow pat, it’s a SEE…a Single Excretory Event! | We don’t need new knowledge, we need to be applying what we already know | The whole idea that beef cattle are destroying the environment is only tied to feedlot phase of it | The methane thing is a real red herring with grazing cattle, feedlots it’s a problem. It’s the production model not the ruminant animals that are the problem | Grass feeds the grass, grass feeds the soil, then grass can feed the livestock| Human health is intrinsically linked to soil health. Links Jim Gerrish – American Grazing Lands LLC Maia Grazing – Grazing management tool Dr. James Anderson – Scottish agriculturist in 1700’s Diana Rodgers – Sustainable Dish Sacred Cow – Film project led by Diana Rodgersint

A Perfect Match by Jim Gerrish

Once again, Jim Gerrish, owner American GrazingLands,  pens a thorough and relevant article.  This one published in The Stockman GrassFarmer June , 2020 issue.  Click here if you’d like to request a free copy of The Stockman GrassFarmer.

A Perfect Match

May, Idaho

Some things just seem to fit together really well.  Bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches come to mind, among other things.

How about no-till, cover-crops, irrigation, and MiG?  That is another combination that is hard to beat.

Industrial farming with conventional tillage has led to widespread land degradation through soil erosion, loss of soil carbon, and destruction of soil life.  No-till minimizes soil disturbance and the concurrent loss of organic matter soil life.  The downside of no-till farming over the 50 or so years since its inception has been heavy reliance on potent herbicides like paraquat and glyphosate.  To eliminate the need for those herbicides and their toxic side effects, innovative farmers have figured out approaches.  The roller-crimper as a mechanical tool can terminate existing vegetation and turn it into moisture-conserving mulch.  High stock density grazing can also terminate or suppress existing vegetation and turn it into dollars.

The exponential growth in cover-crop use over the last decade has also accelerated the adoption of no-till farming across the USA and around the world.  While many farmers started using cover-crops based solely on soil health benefits, others came to realize livestock were the missing link in their efforts to heal the land.  We quite talking about sustainable ag a few years ago and started talking about regenerative ag.  Why settle for sustaining the agricultural wreck we have created over the last century?  Why don’t we try fixing it instead?

Ray Archuleta uses a great example to illustrate the difference between the sustainable and regenerative concepts.  ray asks,  “If your marriage is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that?  If your farm is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that?”

Regeneration is meant to create something healthy and strong that will last your lifetime and beyond.  I think it is a valuable lesson in world selection and world viewpoint.

In a similar vein, many years ago I said the most tragic divorce that has happened down on the farm was the divorce of livestock from the land.  Taking grazing animals off the landscape and locking them up in concentration camps removed a critical component of ecosystem health.  We will only regenerate a healthy landscapes with effectively managed livestock as part of the process.

We can argue about the sustainability of irrigation.  Around the world, including the USA, aquifers are being pumped to the point of depletion.  Land is being degraded due to salinization from irrigating with high salt content water.  Pumping costs are increasing in many irrigated farming areas as water is pumped from deeper and deeper wells.  No, irrigation in that sense is neither sustainable nor regenerative.

Living in the Intermountain Region of the USA for 16 years now and enjoying a different type of irrigation basis.  I think there is a time and place for irrigation in a regenerative ranching or farming context.  With direct snow-melt as our water source we avoid aquifer depletion and most of the salinity risks associated with irrigation in semi-arid landscapes.

For many years, a lot of this region was flood irrigated.  There are a number of benefits to flood irrigation.  Flood irrigation can rely entirely on gravity flow of water so there is no pumping cost.  It can hydrate parts of the landscape outside of the farmed fields.  The infrastructure investment is fairly low.  However, Water use efficiency cannot be counted as one of the favorable aspects of flood irrigation.

Per ton of forage grown, flood irrigation typically uses about 50-80% more water than sprinkler irrigation.  As we think more and more about the pending worldwide water crisis, all of us in agriculture must become better versed in water conservation whether we are in high natural rainfall or irrigated environments.  That brings us back to thought of no-till farming with cover-crops and the role of grazing animals in groundwater management.

We have all heard and read those popular press articles citing how many pounds of water it takes to produce a pound of hamburger or a steak.  Some beef industry estimates are as low as 1000 lbs of water per lb of beef all the way up to 12,000 lbs of water/lb of beef claimed by some vegan groups.  Since a pound of beef only contains about 10 ounces of water, the rest of all that water has to be somewhere else.  That somewhere else is mostly in the soil or the atmosphere meaning that same water will be used for something else tomorrow or the next day or the next.

Our job is to get as much back into the soil or the deeper ground water system.  This is where MiG comes into the picture.  We use time-controlled grazing management to manipulate the amount of living plant residual and the amount of trampled litter we create in the pasture.  Both of those grazing management responses are critically important factors in managing soil water.  Infiltration rate and surface runoff are directly tied to our day-to-day grazing management choices.

When we can easily produce twice as much animal product per acre using MiG compared to ineffectively managed pastures, that translates to a doubled water use efficiency.  Think about the cost of seeding cover-crops on irrigated land and the relative return on investment between those two different management scenarios.  Regardless of the particular pasture in question.  MiG always increases the return potential.

Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant providing 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 20.

 

 

 

 

Summer Slump Savvy

Another great video by Greg Judy describing summer slump grazing in Missouri.  He lives in central Missouri.  He also gives his two great interns special attention in this one.

Summer Slump Management

Starting a Ranch – Is it Viable?

Here’s another great blog by Dallas Mount who owns Ranching Consultants (Ranching for Profit).  He outlines the start up costs of beginning a ranch.  It’s never been easy to ranch or farm – even when US government was giving away land.  Most of that land was harsh and unforgiving and many families were starved off trying to make a living.  However, there have a been a very few years in the last century which might have made purchasing land to farm a viable option.  At today’s land prices, that is not an option.  Prices are way out of whack in regards to its agricultural productivity.

bakingCan’t be done. At least that is what conventional wisdom says. I’d agree that it can’t be done, if you follow the rules of traditional ranching – running cows the way everyone else does and owning everything. If you are willing to break some rules and challenge conventional wisdom maybe you can join the amazing group of people that have done it.

Let’s look at the economics of conventional wisdom for starting a ranch from scratch. You’ll need land. Of course, if you want to be a real rancher (so the thinking goes) you’ll need to own it. If you are going to ranch full time, you’ll need enough cows to support a family so let’s plan to buy a ranch that will run 400 cows. In much of ranching country, the rule of thumb is 35 acres per cow. Let’s push that to 40 and ask those cows to graze year-round.

The value of the land will be driven by things other than its forage producing value. Generally aesthetic value and proximity to a metropolitan center will drive the land values. Let’s say we found a ranch that will sell for $600/acre. We will need 16,000 acres so our purchase will be about 9.6 million. Of course, we need to own the cow herd as well. 400 cows, 16 bulls and 80 heifers will cost us about $700,000 in today’s market and we will need an arsenal of machines so let’s add another $300,000 to make it a round $1 million for livestock and machines.

If we find a bank willing to finance all of this, we will likely need to come up with 20% down at least. So we will need about 2 million for the land and $200,000 for the livestock and machines. It just so happens our great aunt just died leaving us 2.2 million! Now all we have to do is service the remaining debt! Should be easy right? If the bank finances the land at 5% for 20 years and the cows and machines for 5 years at 7% that will leave us with a payment of about $600,000 per year on the land and about $200,000 on the cow/machine note.

If we divide our total payments of $800,000 by our 400 cows then each cow will need to generate $2,000 annually for debt service not to mention covering her bills for feed, vet, trucking, and all the other overheads. We better wean some big calves! Are you ready to buy yet? Maybe we should just sit in the coffee shop and complain about all of this? Oh … I know … it’s the banker’s fault for charging interest!

Hopefully this demonstrates that ranching the conventional way is not a realistic path to ranching from scratch. So what is? Firstly, I think it is important that we make a separation in our minds from operating a ranching business and owning land. After all, you can run 1,000 cows and not own a single acre of land, and you can own a million acres of land and not own one cow! Being in the land investment business and being in the livestock business are two separate businesses. The land investment can be a great place to park money and enjoy appreciation and wealth building over time. It can be a terrible place to park money when you need cash flow.

At the Ranching for Profit School, we teach an economic planning process that requires any livestock you run to pay fair-market rent for the grass they consume. Not including this in your planning essentially subsidizes your livestock enterprises with free grass from your land business. Conversely, asking cows to make your land payment might subsidize your land investment by overcharging your livestock business.  You must do the economics right to know where you are creating value. If you want to buy land, let’s establish a profit target that you will need to achieve to reach your goals and develop a business around that profit target.

Many of our alumni get into ranching from scratch by custom grazing cattle on leased land. This is often a model with a strong cash flow and can allow the operator to build reserves that can be used to invest in livestock or real estate. This certainly isn’t a utopia. There are the challenges of finding leases, managing landowners, developing good grazing infrastructure and many others. The skills necessary to be successful in this path include:

  • People Skills – managing landowners, marketing yourself as a lessee and custom grazer, putting a team together to do the day-to-day.
  • Grazing Skills – planning, implementing and monitoring land health and reporting back to landowners.
  • Economics and Finance – planning for profit, budgeting, and cash flow management.
  • Livestock Handling – leading your team or managing yourself to meet livestock performance objectives.

I’d love to hear from those of you who started from scratch. What advice would you have for someone else looking to do the same?

18 Responses to “Ranching from Scratch”

June 24, 2020 at 3:57 amjames coffelt said:

Excellent discussion

Ranching is a great life style.

Is it a great business? Peter Drucker, the great business writer, suggests every business, every idea, every activity, and every employee, should be on trial for its life, every day.

Can a ranching business succeed? Yes, and there are plenty doing it. However, that is not the right question.

We should ask: How are these assets, efforts, labor, and risk, performing relative to other alternatives?

An S + P 500 index fund has averaged a 12% return for years.

So, is the equity invested in the ranching business, cattle and land, performing better than 12% ? Note, I used the word equity, not assets for the comparison. That is, net assets.

I would suggest the following:

The only management model to consider is a low input management model. Work toward eliminating or reducing, shots, worming, tagging, calf checking, weaning, machine work, hay. Let the cows rehab the land, and produce cattle genetically fit to thrive in the all-natural survival of the fittest, model.

Work from set stocking, to rotational grazing, to mob grazing, as able. Each step is better for the land, and permits an increase in stocking rate. Stocking rate influences profitability more than any other trait, more than performance, milk, growth, marbling, etc..

Find a way to sell into premium markets. A quality animal sold by the piece is 3-4 k retail, $800 at the sale barn. That spread requires sales and marketing effort.

The land is a separate business which can include revenue from gas and oil, hunting, fishing, timber, tourism, etc..

The choice to ranch for love of lifestyle is admirable. However, it is a business which requires economic performance.

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June 24, 2020 at 4:09 am, JOSH LUCAS said:

Learn how to be an effective communicator! (Like they teach at the rfp school) Managing the landowner relationship when leasing can be challenging if you don’t communicate your goals for the property well enough.
Oh and definitely don’t buy equipment!

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June 24, 2020 at 6:07 amShelly Oswald said:

Good points but where is the marketing component where you know the intrinsic value of your products, communicate that to your customers and obtain the premium you need to be profitable without cutting corners?

The other point missed is that your approach conserves capital investment in the land and treats it like the profit center it should be. In order to conserve our farmland and keep it in the hands of our citizens, we need to be paying fair rent to ourselves or our neighbors and not asking them to subsidize the food we produce.

I love the principles you teach!

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June 24, 2020 at 6:15 am, Rebecca Patton said:

My husband and I came back to his family ranch in the hopes of developing a succession plan and being able to take over and run a successful ranching business, however, we were stuck in the paradigm that there is such a huge barrier to entry in ranching that our only opportunity to make money with cattle was to be successors to a debt free ranch. Apparently the older generation had different priorities than ranch transition, so we are now looking to break away with the new perspective that we can do what we want through custom grazing and leasing, and we have never been more excited! Thanks for sharing Profit Tips with us!

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June 24, 2020 at 6:20 am, Clint Hoelting said:

If you are going to take care of other people’s cattle on other people’s land, you might as well get a job on a ranch. Same thing, except with Custom/Lease you will have to pay for overheads a ranch hand wouldn’t.

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June 24, 2020 at 7:42 am, Justin Tollman said:

I was stuck in the “How To Own It” traffic jam for a while, and then was introduced to Ranching For Profit. In 2014, my wife and I had no ranch, and no idea how to step into a ranch, but I knew I wanted to. We went to a RFP School, and that really sparked an idea for me to set up a business plan that I could get people to buy into: Leasing a ranch!
Prior to that shift in paradigm, we were stuck. You see, I grew up on the ranch that we now lease. But, so did my sisters. It’s been in the family for over 120 years, but my parents were stuck in the asset transition trap: How do you be fair to everyone? My wife was extremely scared of going into a huge amount of debt, and quite frankly was scared of what happens if it doesn’t work.
The lease model has opened many doors! It got us unstuck. Has it been perfect? Of course not! I don’t know a ranching family that has everything go perfectly. When the all of the cattle issues go right, people issues may flare, when the people are happy, water issues might pop up, this business has a way of humbling anyone who knows everything. And then, there are always customers to deal with, and luckily almost every “contentious moment” with my customers has been built up worse in my mind than in reality. But, I’ve heard it said that people get paid by the size of the problems they can solve, so if you want paid more, choose bigger problems.
I’ve heard so much “I don’t think you can do that!” Well, my favorite saying now is “You never know what you can do until you have to.”

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June 24, 2020 at 7:44 am, john marble said:

I think the biggest roadblock to starting or maintaining a successful ranching business is the commonly-held belief that ranching is somehow different than other businesses or industries. Loving to work outside, handle livestock, smell the new-mown hay…all of that is fine, but it doesn’t have much to do with running a successful business. People who want to enter the ranching industry need to do the same things that new entrants to the gas station or motel or bowling alley business have to do: market goods and services at a profit. Not very romantic, but clearly true. Successful business people study marketing and logistics. They develop relationships with other progressive, smart operators. They avoid enterprises that lose money.

Sorry to break the new: ranching is just not that special.

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June 24, 2020 at 11:02 am, Marc Cesario said:

John – love it!

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June 24, 2020 at 8:01 am, Davene Finkbeiner said:

I started from scratch at 50 years old. Now I am 62. I followed ranching for profit Allan Nation Joel Salatin Bud Williams.Turing the ranch over to my children. It has been one hell of a ride.

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June 24, 2020 at 8:48 am, Marc Cesario said:

It’s amazing how often you can hear advice, even believe the advice that’s been given, then somehow rationalize why your situation is different. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of machinery, equipment and barns but it’s a dead end more often than not. Grass, appropriate fence and a good water system is really all what most start from scratchers should focus on.
It’s good and necessary to believe in ourselves, but too often we think we can do more than we actually can. At best, I feel we can only do two things well, and more likely it’s probably just one thing. Often multiple enterprises just drain resources from the each other. Stay focused.

The word priority was only ever used in the singular until the 1900’s. There can only be one priority.

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June 24, 2020 at 8:52 am, Marc Cesario said:

Josh- yes, Managing expectations is extremely important. underpromise and over deliver.

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June 24, 2020 at 9:54 am, Ross Macdonald said:

Don’t get caught up in a recipe, what you know today will change/evolve over the next several years.
Let your definition of profit drive your decisions and recognize that it is never perfect but with effort, desire and experience it gets much better.
Soils, grazing, stockmanship, marketing, relationships are get better if you work to make them better but it is a journey not a destination, so your definition of profit had better include happiness.

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June 24, 2020 at 11:49 am, john marble said:

Gosh, Clint, I haven’t found that to be true at all. I’ve rented quite a number of places over the years, and the amount I pay in rent has absolutely nothing to do with land overheads. On occasion, I’ve had land owners express their desire for the rent to cover property taxes or some other irrelevant item. I try to be fair with owners, but in the end I will only pay a rental rate that allows me the opportunity to make a good profit, and that is often based on running “other people’s cattle” on that rental land. Sorry, but negotiating land rentals, signing contracts on custom cattle and designing business plans that result in profit are not “hired hand” jobs. Those are business owner jobs.

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June 25, 2020 at 9:45 am, Justin M Tollman said:

I think John and Clint may be looking at two sides of the same coin. To paraphrase Clint “you’re working for someone else if you custom graze on leased land.” I will say that the thought has crossed my mind over the last 3 years that I would be better off financially if I just worked for someone else. That’s on a cash taken home basis. But, when you look at net worth vs. cash flow, that isn’t the case. To John’s point, working on the business is different than working in the business. If I didn’t want to set direction, plan my own time, work on the big picture stuff, and play the virtual 3-D chess game that is forecasting, contingency planning,etc., then yeah, working as a hired hand on an outfit might be better. But, always know, you are always working for a customer. Whether that customer is someone who writes you a paycheck for labor, or a customer who writes you a paycheck for cattle that you sell, or a customer that writes a paycheck for custom care. But, ranching from scratch, to me it’s about setting the direction, the mission and vision, the building for a brighter and easier tomorrow, and taking ownership of that process. I’m not as excited about the ownership of land or things, but the ownership of happy business partners.

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June 26, 2020 at 6:14 pm, Amber said:

I totally agree. My husband and I and our two kids lead a great life on leased land, with custom grazed cows and building our own cowherd on the side. We work for ourselves, while functioning in a great network of relationships. It is all about how you treat people.

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June 27, 2020 at 12:36 am, Graeme Bear said:

A great topic Dallas. Often the most thought provoking topics are those that challenge traditional thinking and paradigms. Love the collection of views and contributions by everyone on this one. The fundamentals of successful business are the same whether it be a cattle ranch or transport or manufacturing business, exactly the same principle apply.

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June 28, 2020 at 5:12 am, Doug Dillon said:

It can be done! I have done it twice. I purchased my first ranch in 2009 after graduating college. Purchased another ranch in 2014. Sold the first ranch in 2015. I attended two RMC schools and was in the Executive Link from 2010 until 2015. The two biggest things I think any one starting from scratch needs to keep in mind is you have to be passionate about what you are doing, it’s going to be tough. Keep you pencil sharp and make the hard decisions that make you money.

The 2nd is don’t get married to a ranch. In 2015 Mike Hall spoke at the RMC summer meeting in Laramie WY. He talked about “not being married to a ranch.” I realize not all ranches are equal, and its hard to walk away from something you have built. He talked about making your land business profitable by selling land. Its a difficult thing for most people or families to do, but if you are starting from scratch you are going to have to do some of these difficult things to generate cash to get out of debt.

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June 28, 2020 at 7:15 am, Davene Finkbeiner said:

I started from scratch 10 years ago with leased land and share cattle. I agree about selling land. Bought pasture based on its resale value and now have it listed for double the price I paid for it. When cattle prices were at there peak I did not buy more cattle I took share cattle instead and put cash into rental houses.Now they are producing a income of 1200 per month.Biggest problem in our area is I am surrounded by inheritance ranching operations who spend a lot of time trying to derail the start from scratch operations. They are especially hard on young people just getting started.I am looking for a good support group for my 2 Kids just coming into the cattle business.

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Grazing Patterns

Managed grazing takes some work, but good decisions yield excellent results as measured by animal performance, increased soil biome, desirable grazing plant species, and good ground cover to protect the soil from heat and erosion.  Little to no improvement happens in any of these areas if the land is allowed to lie idle.  In fact, if animal impact is removed from the land, the negative effects may increase the opportunity for desertification.

Below are some random photos i took today which tell a little bit of the story and my grazing plans (which change with the weather and time of year).

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The recent grazing history for this paddock #23 is 3 days of grazing in early June 2019, 5 days of grazing mid July 2019, and 7 days of grazing late December 2019.  They are just now returning to this paddock for the first time since December 24, 2019.  That doesn’t tell you the whole story of course – how many cows/calves/bulls were there? (i do have that information),  but my point here is to illustrate the importance of plant recovery and every year and every paddock will respond differently to varying amounts of grazing pressure.  Observation is key.
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This is a patch of the paddock i spent a lot of money renovating it.  I’m still on the fence as to whether or not it was worth it.  The forages now are much more desirable (before it was 90-95% toxic endophyte fescue) and now there is an amazing array of diverse species.  However, overall production of forage is about the same as measured in cow days per acres.
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This native warm season grass is proliferating all over my farm more and more each year.  Slow to recover the first 10 years, but now, like other natives, coming on more quickly.  Only by allowing the forages to recover by managing where the animals loaf and graze will this happen.  This yummy Eastern Gamma Grass is called the ice cream of warm season grasses.
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Close up of seeds of the Eastern Gamma Grass starting to form.
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Red clover in the foreground.  The smaller purple flower is alfalfa.  I’ve never planted alfalfa on my farm.
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See the small green plant in the foreground with tiny leaves growing close to the ground?  that is lespedeza – livestock and wildlife graze that in the fall and will get fat!!

 

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This is the same paddock where you see lush forage growing.  Not all the severely eroded spots have mended.  May never heal in my lifetime, but i will keep trying with the managed grazing.  My farm was heavily farmed for years in its earlier life and it is far too steep to have ever had a plough put to it, but it was and there is very little top soil left.
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Setting up a polywire with step in posts in super tall and thick forage in 90 degree heat with high humidity is not my cup of tea, but i will do it a few time for the good of the land.  Here you see the polywire, which is electrified and keeps the cows where i want them.  They have grazed and laid down the unpalatable stuff so that soil microbes will  now have ready access to nutrients they need to build more soil.
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This is just another view of the laid down forage though you can see here they did more grazing before trampling what they didn’t want to graze.  More dunging here will hasten the breakdown.

 

 

Purdin Paddocks 23 and 24
For fun, here you can see how i stripped off smaller segments of larger paddocks.  This was to facilitate better utilization of the forage, whether by grazing or trampling.  The cows were in the paddock strip defined by hwy Y and the blue strip first.  They had access to the timber to the north for shade and walked to water in the ditch or to the pond to the north (not shown).  They were allowed access to each subsequent paddock going to the left (west) without a back fence since they had to go back to timber for shade.  If i didn’t have time to do this, i wouldn’t, but this management scheme increases days of grazing without being detrimental to the land or animal performance.  Today, they were given access to the strip between the orange line and lime green line.  No long having access to timber because there is plenty of trees in this temporary paddock and there is a water tank below the large pond to the upper left.  For an idea of scale, the lime green division fence is 1/4 of a mile.  The perimeter of the two paddocks (red line) encompasses 38 acres.  Most of my paddocks hover in the 20 acre range.