Tag Archives: Jim Gerrish

Cheapest Ranch to Buy Part 2

The second part of Jim Gerrish‘s excellent article and how to not only make your farm or ranch more profitable, but also improve soil, grazing, water, and wildlife.Building electric fence in rough countryJim Gerrish

In most locations, single-wire electric fence and water facilities are the main costs for improved grazing management.

What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy? Part II

For a fraction of the cost of purchase, most ranches can make improvements that sometimes double their carrying capacity.

Jim Gerrish 1 | Aug 12, 2019

In Part 1 of this series, I made two fundamental assertions: The first was that time management of grazing period and recovery time is the primary determinant of pasture productivity. The second is that we should be assessing ranch output and profitability on a per-acre basis not on the per-animal basis commonly used in the ranching industry.

I ended that article with the observation that increasing pasture or range production by 40% would be more profitable than trying to increase individual animal productivity by 40%.

My 40% is not a magic number. It is simply the example I am using. I do that partly because of the commonly held idea that producing a 700-pound calf must be more profitable than raising a 500-pound calf. The other reason I am using 40% is because that is also a common level of increase in pasture productivity we see when ranchers implement management-intensive grazing (MiG).

MiG is the term I use to describe an approach to grazing management that is more intensive than the set-stocking or slow rotations common in the ranching industry. Our objective is to shorten the period of time any piece of pasture or rangeland is exposed to grazing animals. If we do this, the potential recovery period is always significantly extended. This is the key component of time management I have been referring to.

When we build subdivision fencing across the landscape of the ranch, we are not only subdividing space, we are also subdividing time.  Each time we make a smaller pasture increment, we reduce the amount of time the stock will be on that increment. That has a tremendous, and for some ranchers, an almost unbelievable change in the vigor and productivity of the pasture. With shortened grazing periods, we can more tightly control every aspect of the soil-plant-animal relationship. That is the component missing from almost all of the grazing management research of the last 100 years.

What is this management of time worth down on the ranch?

As mentioned above, the average increase in carrying capacity we see among our ranching clients adopting MiG and making investments in stock water development and subdivision fencing is about 40%. We have numerous clients who have doubled their carrying capacity. We have a few who have gotten less than 40%. All of this is the product of more effectively managing the period of time cattle are allowed to be in a particular area. On rangeland we usually work toward having that time period no more than 7-10 days. On productive pasture, we keep the length of the grazing period to no more than 3-4 days.

What does it cost to install all that fence, pipelines and tanks?

Every ranch is different, so of course the answer is that it depends! For example, is there already a good well on the property or do we need to drill a well? Is there already a pipeline network on the property that we can spur off of? Are there existing fences that are in reasonable locations that can be used in the new management scheme? These are the components that can make a difference. Here are examples from a couple of recent projects we have designed and which the ranchers implemented.

Jim GerrishA dozer pulling in water line.

Livestock water typically is the most limiting resource for managed grazing, but it is far cheaper than land.

Twice the ranch

On an 8,000-acre ranch in the Nebraska Sand Hills, we started a ranch that had 15-20 existing pastures with low-output windmills that allowed them to only carry 20-60 cows in each pasture. With a 7.5-mile pipeline project, 20 new stock tanks, and more than 20 miles of two-wire electrified high-tensile fencing, the ranch was split into about 60 permanent pastures with a stock-water supply system that allows 600-800 cows to be run in a single herd. The project cost was about $400,000 when we include the rancher’s labor contribution to the construction project. That is a big chunk of money, but on a per-acre basis it is only $50 per acre. In three years’ time, this ranch doubled its carrying capacity and the infrastructure investment was paid off in the third year.

That means they essentially bought another ranch for $50 per acre, while the cost to go out and actually purchase another ranch would have been $1,000 per acre, plus closing costs and added taxes.

Might double

Another recent project on a 30,000-acre ranch racked up an infrastructure development cost of about $1.1 million. That is a per-acre cost of about $36. Projecting a 40% increase in carrying capacity has the project paid off in year four. With a 40% increase in carrying capacity, the equivalent per acre purchase price is $90 per acre. I am confident this ranch will also experience a doubling of carrying capacity in 3-5 years, so the payoff rate should be accelerated. Why do I expect this ranch to double carrying capacity? Because the ranch is presently very under-supplied with stock water and much of the ranch is rarely even being grazed.

Remember the title on the article: “What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy?”

It is the one you acquire by more effectively managing grazing and recovery time on the ranch you already own.

Read part one of this story here. Gerrish is internationally known grazier, grazing consultant and consultant. Find him at http://www.americangrazinglands.com.

 

Cheapest Ranch You Can Buy Part 1

Written by my friend, Jim Gerrish, for Beef Producer magazine:  This is Part 1

What is the Cheapest Ranch You Will Ever Buy?

Cows grazing Nebraska SandhillsAlan Newport
Changing the way we graze can dramatically alter the value and production of a ranch.

What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy? Part 1

The value of grazing management cannot be overstated, author says.

Jim Gerrish 1 | Aug 09, 2019

Whenever a group of ranchers get together, sooner or later the conversation will turn to whose place just got sold and what did it bring. There will be some head shaking and bemoaning how you just can’t afford to buy another ranch or help your kid get started on a new place.

In much of the country, the price of ranch land is driven by non-ranching factors. People are paying way more for the recreational value or the view from the ranch than what livestock production can afford to pay.

There generally is a common-knowledge guide for how many acres it takes to run a cow in any neighborhood. Most people seem to believe this is a predetermined stocking rate that is determined almost entirely by the amount of rainfall received in any given year. The truth is, environment determines only the upper limit of the carrying capacity potential of a ranch. It is the ranchers grazing management that determines how much of that potential is actually realized.

The plain and simple truth of the matter is most ranches in the US are managed in a way that generally captures less than half of the biological carrying capacity of the ranch. The two primary ingredients for producing beef are sunshine and water. Most ranches are ineffective at harvesting these two “free” inputs. While sunshine and rain water are free ingredients, the landscape we use as our solar panel and water catchment is not free.

If we decide we need to increase the beef output on our ranch by 40% to generate the revenue flow we need to make a living, how might we go about doing that?

One obvious way is to buy another ranch that is 40% the size of our current holdings. If our current ranch is worth $1,000/acre and we have 1,000 acres, we would need to buy 400 more acres at $1,000 to get 40% more grazing capacity. That would be $400,000 outlay, plus there would be closing costs, an increase in taxes, and so forth.

The failed approach the ranching industry has taken has been the quest to increase output per individual cow by 40%. Rather than having cows that wean 500 pounds, let’s have cows that wean 700 pounds. The number of articles published in the last five years showing the folly of this approach is astounding. Go to the winter cattle production meetings and every one of them seems to feature a university researcher now showing big cows decrease ranch profitability, not the other way around.

A less obvious way to increase stocking rate is to get 40% more production out of every acre we currently own or control. Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream ranchers can only think of adding irrigation or more fertilizer or tear up the native range to plant some foreign wonder-grass. Is that really all we can do?

What if we found a way to capture more solar energy and water on every acre? How could we do that and what might it cost?

Let’s step back and ask why are most ranches operating at less than 50% of their biological carrying capacity? The simplest answer is there is too much bare ground. Bare ground doesn’t capture solar energy and make cow feed. Bare ground allows water to run off or set on the surface and evaporate. Why do most ranches have too much bare ground? Because cattle stay too long in the same place and pasture and rangeland are not allowed adequate recovery time to maintain plant vigor.

In 40 years of commercial ranching and grazing research I have learned the primary determinants of range and pasture productivity are:

  1. The amount of time stock are allowed to be on a particular piece of ground
  2. The time allowed for recovery

That local common-knowledge guide for how many acres it takes to run a cow is fundamentally flawed because it is based on management that completely ignores the role of time management on the nature of our soil health and plant community.

For the last 50 years the ranching industry and community focused on the animal and animal genetics, which misses the point that it is the land base controlled and the productivity of that land that drives ranch profitability, not individual animal productivity.

On a commercial ranch, most of our production costs are land-based costs, not animal-based costs. This is the reason why increasing the productivity of an acre of grazing land by 40% will always have much more impact of bottom line profitability than will increasing individual cow productivity by 40%.

Next week: Learn how to get that ranch production increase of 40% or more.

Gerrish is internationally known grazier, grazing consultant and consultant. Find him at http://www.americangrazinglands.com.

 

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 6

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 6

By   /  April 1, 2019  /  1 Comment

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This is the last part in Jim’s series. If you missed any part, here are links to catch up: Part 1,Part 2Part 3Part 4 and Part 5.

Hay is more Carbon (C) by dry weight than anything else. When we feed hay we are also adding carbon to the soil in addition to the Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorous (P) discussed in the earlier posts in this series. Adding carbon increases the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil through increase in soil organic matter.

How much carbon do we add to the soil with hay feeding?

Let’s do the math.

Hay is typically between 40-50% Carbon depending on plant maturity at harvest time. Some of this C is in cells as soluble sugar or other easily digested materials. The bulk of the C is in plant fiber that varies in degree of digestibility.

What’s left behind after feeding is a combination of unconsumed plant material and dung and urine. Both are important contributors to soil health.

Unconsumed hay is intact plant material that helps provide the ‘armor’ on the soil. During the growing season we refer to litter cover on the soil surface. Hay residue provides the same benefits to the water cycle as plant litter.

The consumed part of hay that is not digested comes out as manure. We have already discussed the N & P values of manure and urine following hay feeding. Whereas we can add too much N or P to the soil through excessive hay feeding, it is almost impossible to add too much C.

The digestible part of the hay is utilized by ruminant livestock as their primary energy source. Maintenance quality cow hay may be as low as 50% digestibility while high quality ‘calf hay’ may be close to 70% digestible. The C from digested material is incorporated into body tissue or expelled as CO2.

It is the non-digested plant material that contributes to building soil organic matter through dung returned to the soil. Manure on the ground does not contribute a lot to ‘soil armor’, but it contributes to feeding soil life.

The rate of manure breakdown is largely driven by digestibility of the residual fiber. If rumen microbes could not quickly digest it, soil microbes aren’t much faster. Manure breaks down much more quickly in warm-wet environments compared to cold-dry environments.

Hay residue left on the ground will ultimately contribute to soil organic matter. Many people have the bad habit of wanting to burn residue piles in the Spring. Please, do not!

These piles become enriched soil organic matter sites and can be above average production areas for years to come. Burning piles sends most of the valuable C into the atmosphere.

While in the first year following feeding there may be some weeds grow up on these piles, most of those weeds are making a contribution to soil development or get grazed by the livestock during the growing season.

The bottom line is, each ton of hay fed will contribute about 400 to 600 lbs of C to the soil as either hay residue or manure.

That is a valuable addition to your land. Make the most of it!

 

This is the last part in Jim’s series. If you missed any part, here are links to catch up: Part 1, Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5.

 

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Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 5

Part 5 of Jim Gerrish article on Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land.  American Grazinglands Services. 

Find Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. and Part 6

Reprinted from On Pasture.

By   /  March 25, 2019  /  2 Comments

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In case you missed them, here are links for previous articles in this series: Part 1, Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

We have so far only considered the role of buying and feeding hay as a Nitrogen source for your pastures. Hay is also a great source for slow-release Phosphorus to benefit your pastures.

Manufactured P fertilizers have recently been shown to be detrimental to the presence and function of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Using fed hay as a P source rather than concentrated soluble fertilizers feeds the fungi rather than diminishing them.

Factors Limiting Plant Growth

Nitrogen is generally considered to be the first most limiting nutrient for plant growth in terrestrial environments. Phosphorus is very often the 2nd most limiting nutrient. Unlike the N fixation process carried out by legumes in association with Rhizobia bacteria, we cannot create P out of thin air.

P is critical to both plants and animals as all energy transfers within plant and animal are mediated by P containing compounds. Abundant P is necessary to have healthy pastures and livestock.

Almost all P excreted by animals is in the dung. Because most cattle defecations occur when the animal is at rest, dung tends to accumulate where animals congregate – on the feeding line for example, or where cattle bed in hay not consumed. It does not get spread out over the entire pasture area if feeding is limited to small areas of the pasture.

This why spreading the hay out in the feeding process helps the P cycle.

Excess Nutrients Cause Problems

While P is a critical component of life, it also has pollution potential if we are allowing manure to concentrate in areas prone to surface runoff and soil erosion.

Mismanaged hay feeding can lead to excessive runoff of fecal material into surface water leading to aquatic weed growth and algal blooms. The ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay are due to P runoff as well as N runoff.

How Much P Does Hay Feeding Provide?

Using our previous example of bale grazing with over 20 tons of hay/acre fed, the P load would be about 80 lbs/acre. That is not an excessive amount of P, although the N load was quite high.

Since that P is almost all contained in dung pats, it is slowly released back to the soil through microbial decomposition processes. The greater the biological and insect activity in the soil, the quicker the release process.

We only have a possibility of P contamination of surface waters when there is actual water runoff and/or soil erosion taking fecal particles and soil to the riparian areas.

The key to minimizing risk of P pollution from hay feeding is keeping the feeding areas well away from surface water.

Let’s keep them high & dry!

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 3

Jim Gerrish further explaining benefits and detriments to feeding hay.   American Grazinglands Services.

Find Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Reprinted from On Pasture.

By   /  March 11, 2019  /  2 Comments

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If you missed them, catch up by reading Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Having a systematic approach to hay feeding is a critical part of maximizing the nutrient benefits you get when feeding hay is a big piece of your pasture fertility program.

We have already seen in the previous post the amount of urinary N that is returned to the soil with each ton of hay fed. We know the amount applied depends on the protein content of the hay. Now let’s look at how you manage the feeding rate.

Let’s Do the Math on Hay Feeding for a Targeted N Application Rate

Remember urinary N is readily available for plant use and is also the form of N that is most likely to be lost to the atmosphere as ammonia or leaching after conversion to nitrate in the soil.

In this example we have 250 cows in the herd and are feeding them about 30 lbs of hay per head per day for a total feed requirement of 7500 lbs/day. We know there will be some feeding waste, so let’s round it up to 4 tons of hay fed per day.

Referring to the table in Part 2 of this series, we know hay at 8% CP will return about 11 lbs of urinary N and 11 lbs of fecal N for each ton of hay fed.

If our target rate of N application is 120 lbs/acre, we could feed on one acre of three days.

What if we have a hay that has protein well above the requirement of the animal?

Dry, pregnant beef cow only needs 7-8% CP. Now we are feeding a 14% CP hay so all the excess N is going to come out in the urine.

Now our urinary N rate per ton of feed is about 31 lbs, so we can only feed one day per acre to apply our target rate of 120 lbs/acre.

Now, Spread the Manure and Urine Across Your Pasture

While we would like to think that if we feed hay on our pastures, the cowsill s run all over and poop all across the field, they do not.

When we have measured manure distribution when feeding hay on snow covered ground, we find typically 80% of the manure falls within 15-20 feet of the feed line. Most of the rest is dropped between today’s feeding strip and the stock water. Very little is returned to the pasture at large unless there is residual grass the cattle are picking at.

Based on the premise that most manure falls within 15-20 ft of the feeding line, we can plan our hay distribution accordingly.


Using the 14% CP hay example and needing to cover one acre every day, we plan our daily feeding to cover a strip one half mile long. In this example, we would feed for 80 days on an 80 acre field to fully fertilize that pasture at 120 lbs N/acre.

It will take a few tries to figure out how fast to drive your pickup to unroll hay or how thick to make your flakes off the big square bales or the windrow width coming out of the bale processor.

The point is you can get a lot more fertility value out of the hay you are feeding if you approach that daily chore with a firm objective in mind.

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 4

More great information from Jim Gerrish, owner of American Grazinglands Services.

Reprinted from On Pasture.

Review Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3Part 5 and Part 6

By   /  March 18, 2019  /  5 Comments

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Did you miss the start of this series? Here is Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

Bale grazing has been increasing in popularity for several years now. This method of feeding minimizes or eliminates the need for running any feeding equipment in the winter months, but is it really all sunshine and roses?

Let’s take a look at potential for excess nitrogen loading soils under bale grazing.

Spaced Bale Feeding

As part of our early efforts in the 1980s to reduce the cost of feeding hay, we developed what we called ‘Spaced-bale feeding’. This was an early version of bale grazing.

Bales were placed in a feeding block as shown on the right side of the picture. We only handled bales once as they were picked up from the field and put in a feeding block, usually in the same field. Spacing was generally 25-30 ft on centers. The bales were protected with an electric fence and then when it was time to feed, a line of bales was exposed and ring feeders placed on those bales. We manually flipped the feeders each time we fed hay.

We quickly noticed that while we were enriching the pasture fertility in the feeding area, we were having no effect on increasing P levels away from the feeding block. In fact, they were going down.

Yes, the spaced-bale feeding system allowed us to reduce cost of feeding in the winter but it was mining nutrients from the pasture as a whole and concentrating them around the feeding block. We did relocate the block every year, but they were always placed close to the permanent fence and not scattered all across the pastures.

Bale Grazing

Bale grazing was being done more commonly in Canada by the early 2000s. Ring feeders were done away with because of the difficulty using them in deep snow situations.

An electric fence is moved and a set number of bales were exposed to the cattle. Very often the bales were just left where the baler had dropped them in the summer, so equipment cost was reduced even further.

As more producers bought their needed hay rather than baling it themselves, bale grazing started to trend back towards feeding blocks rather than widely scattered bales across the field where they had been harvested.

Now we can look at the N being returned to the field in those feeding areas using the information shown earlier in this series of posts.

That is a lot of N!

You might ask, “But who would feed 20 tons/acre?”

Here is an aerial photo showing where bale grazing took place on a farm the previous winter. We easily see the increased growth where the bales had been fed. The area outlined is one acre.

With 36 bales weighing 1300 lbs fed on that one acre, the urinary N returned is over 400 lbs/acre!

Even if the cows did wander off and urinate in different parts of the pasture, there is likely still at least 300 lbs/acre raining down on the feeding block.

This is where we can end up when we don’t have a feeding plan that balances the feeding rate with the capacity of the soil to absorb and hold N.

In some parts of the US such as the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes watersheds, N overload is a serious issue and regulations are in place to regulate manure application and animal concentration.

It is in everyone’s best interest that we on the land understand the consequences of our decisions. We all need to have nutrient management plans for our farms and ranches – not because the government is going to eventually make all of us do it, but because it makes economic and environmental sense to do so.

Nitrogen is only part of the fertility story. Next week, we’ll look at Phosphorous. If you have questions for Jim, please share them in the comment section below.

 

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land-Part 2

This is part 2.  Click here to return to Part 1

Click here American GrazingLands Services LLC to contact Jim about setting up a personal management-intensive grazing program on your farm or ranch.

Find Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 2

By Jim Gerrish  /  March 4, 2019  /  1 Comment

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This is Part 2 in Jim’s series. If you missed Part 1, here you go!

When you feed hay for fertilizer, we often think of it as a way to reduce the need for purchased fertilizer, especially Nitrogen (N). Have you thought about how much N you may actually be applying when you feed hay?

It may be more than you think.

Let’s Look at How N Moves From Fed Hay Back to the Soil

The amount of nitrogen in hay is directly tied to the protein content of the hay. Protein on average contains 16% N. Grass hay may have less protein than the livestock being fed require while legume hay generally has much more protein than required.

If the hay is just what the animal needs in terms of protein content, then about half of the N will be excreted in the feces and half in the urine.

Livestock will generally excrete 85 to 95% of the N consumed.

Fecal N content changes very little as dietary protein level increases.

N is slowly released from manure piles as they decompose. feces breaks down relatively quickly in warm, wet environments and very slowly in cool, dry environments.

Almost all excess N ingested by the animal when protein content of the feed exceeds the animal’s requirement is returned to the soil via urine.

Urinary N is a highly soluble & readily available N fertilizer. When managing hay feeding for targeted N application rate, urinary N is where we focus our attention.

This table shows how much urinary N is returned to the soil depending on the protein content of the hay.

When you decide how many bales of hay you will be feeding on an acre of pasture, this table can help you decide.

If you set a target amount of N to apply, you can determine how many bales per acre it will take to accomplish that application rate. You can see the number of bales to feed per acre will vary greatly depending on the quality of the hay being fed.

Do you have a nutrient management plan or are you missing a great opportunity and wasting resources?

Coming next week – Jim provides some background to help you figure out a plan to manage the nutrients from your hay feeding. If you have questions for Jim, do share them in the comments below!