Kale, carrots, garlic, okra, zucchini, green beans-all out my garden this morning. I didn’t grow the quinoa. Stir fry for lunch. So easy.
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.
Ranch Management Consultants, with an acknowledged huge amount of other support, hosted 48 youth from 17 states in Sheridan, Wyoming for 4 days! If even half those become true ranchers and not serfs on the land, the livestock industry will be in good shape. However, given the financial/investment outlook in our country, none (unless they are already incredibly wealth) will be able to build a legacy. Our economy has been moving in this direction for years, but is now accelerating into something unrecognizable. Too bad.
One thing that became clear to me was that these young people are eager to take on additional responsibility and assume a more prominent role in the businesses they are involved with. It is easy for Junior to say “get out the way…. I’m ready to run this!” but it is significantly more difficult for the seasoned manager with battle scars of past mistakes, to know when and how much control to relinquish. At the Ranching for Profit School, we teach the importance of developing clear expectations for each position in your operation. Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People expands on that with the DR GRAC acronym of Desired Results, Guidelines, Accountability, and Consequences as a thorough way to delegate important tasks. If Junior is going to take over the grazing planning what are the results and specific targets we need to achieve? It should be written down how and when we are going to measure these. Targets for the grazing manager might be:
- Every pasture has a monitoring transect by 2022-monitoring report due Nov 1
- 75% cover by perennial plants- monitoring report due Nov 1
- Decreasing bare ground- monitoring report due Nov 1
- SDA/1” precip reported monthly- Monthly WOTB meeting
- Target rest periods achieved 90% of the time- Grazing Plan reviewed Dec 1
If Junior wants more responsibility, then management should identify where the business is currently failing to produce the desired results. From there you can develop a shared understanding of what a quality result for the business would look like. Junior might need some support on how to be successful in creating these desired results. Maybe there is a neighbor that has this figured out, that Junior can talk with or perhaps there is a class or training on the subject that they can attend. Writing down the guidelines and deadlines for this task on a flip chart and taking a picture of it will help everyone remember the agreements next time the subject comes up.
I don’t buy it when I hear that no young people want to be involved in agriculture. After spending four days with 48 youngsters pulling at the bit, ready for a shot, you wouldn’t either. Those of us in the leadership roles need to create opportunities for them to develop themselves into the people they can become.
As i get older, i’m more aware of how much time and hard work a piece of property can be. Many years ago, my grandpa gave me a 160 acre piece of his land and i now realize that he was about my age now when he gave it. I was much younger and was thrilled, but now i can see that he was probably tired of managing and fixing all its problems. In fact, it is only about the east 80 acres of the farm i now have that incurs 80% of the work i do on the 520 acres i now own/manage. (it is a sad reflection of our time that in north Missouri that is no where near enough property to make a living on). At the same time, it’s the corner of that piece that is the best for working and loading out livestock. (interestingly, my daughter, at about age 11 made the comment, ‘i don’t like this farm, it is too much work!”)
Truth be told, if it was possible for me to control the land to the north of me and to the south, i could all but eliminate the massive erosion and washing problems which cause my little piece to be so much work. But i don’t, so difficult repairs are recurring. Controlling the ‘heads’ of the water by building ponds or dams would practically stop all but the worst rain events which cause such destruction. The biggest help would be to seed down the hills that are being farmed every year. There are no roots to hold any soil in place and increase water infiltration on acres and acres of slope.
So, a point i’m trying to make is – look to your future self when purchasing a property – is this property you are considering fixable? or will it be constant work? We actually looked at a property last year that was adjoining and for sale, but with all it’s deep ditches and no control of the head, it would be more work than what we wanted to take on now at retirement age. It is FAR too much asking price anyway. (It’s still for sale)
The answer, of course, is ‘it depends’.
Consider that the desk you remember your grandpa sitting at this recording transactions and sorting papers for his business was just a tool. Ask yourself, was the desk something important to him as if ‘doing books’ was something he enjoyed? If no, perhaps this desk is not a legacy. What if the desk was worn out when it was purchased and has been patched, nailed, screwed, cracked, hinged, and all sorts of problems that barely keep it together? Is it worth keeping?
Since my guys (son, Dallas, and my husband), with great effort, moved this awkward, bulky, heavy, desk across the basement, up the stairs and outside (we had to remove the door to get it through the doorway), around the house to the front door, which we had by then premeasured to see if it, too, needed removal (thankfully it didn’t – it was a close fit), then into the northwest bedroom we had long since abandoned to a piano room (it was the only room the piano would go into except for the living room), these were questions i now ask myself.
As Dallas noted, ‘it’s too worn out to sell, but too nice to throw away.’ However, this is the last time, i plan to ask anyone to move it again. If someone in the family wants it, of course, they could move it. 🙂
The reality is that the desk, though it did belong to Grandpa, was not important to him and it does not lend itself to a modern business. Add that it is barely flying together in close formation and it no longer has value to me, sentimental or otherwise.
The important legacy he gave me is my love for the land and cattle I now care for. He and my grandma put together a good deal more than a section of land and when i walk across the pastures and climb through ditches and enjoy watching cattle still grazing the hills he and i rode over together, and even when it’s time to fix fence and repair corrals- that is the more important memory. My goals are to continue to improve and regenerate the land as did Grandpa and Grandma in their generation.
The title is a bit misleading. True enough that many productive acres are consumed by housing and commercial uses – covered up with concrete and buildings – changing the micro climate almost immediately. Although, this does lessen the number of acres available, it is also true that with properly managed grazing and proper use of cover crops and regenerative agricultural practices (read this as a return to more productive agrarian crop/livestock integration and rotation), more food can be grown on less acres with an improvement to the soil structure. Where the shortage comes into play is that it takes larger and larger operations to actually make a full time living. Farmers compete with one another, people looking for an investment, and folks who are looking for ‘play’ ground (hunting retreats) drive land prices far above their production values.
However, here is a good article from On Pasture with ideas of consideration into what to look for in good land.
When buying land for cattle production, there are some unique characteristics to consider before signing a contract. These characteristics include: stocking rate, forage quality and type, soil type and fertility, terrain and slope of the land, water sources in each pasture, number of pastures and traps, working pen availability and condition, fence condition and type, and other infrastructure (overhead bins, interior roads, etc.) availability and condition.
Every Property is Different
Many times a potential buyer is told that a ranch in a given area will run “X” amount of cattle. For example, “ranches in this county can run a cow to 15 acres.” These figures are rules of thumb that are normally rooted in some truth but are hardly ever accurate, especially for a specific property. Not every ranch is created equal. Ranches in the same area can have varying forage production potentials based simply on the soil types that are present.
Soil types can vary widely, not only across counties but also across ranches. Each soil type has different forage production potential. A loamy, bottomland soil will have the potential to produce more grass than a shallow soil found along ridges or hilltops. Knowing what and how much of each soil types are on the ranch will allow you to understand the forage production capability of the land you’re investigating. Land that has the capability of producing less forage for cattle consumption than other properties in the same general area could be less valuable to a livestock producer because of the reduced animal number it will support relative to properties of comparable size.
The Web Soil Survey website, maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is a great tool to determine what soil types are on any given piece of land. This tool allows you to map out the property and run reports on what soil types are present, in what amounts, and the forage production capability for each soil type. There is also ratings on the building suitability for home and barn sites, crop production, and pond development just to name a few. This tool can be found at websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov or with a quick internet search for “Web Soil Survey.”
Not all of the acres on the property will be grazeable. Roads, energy production sites, steep or rocky terrain, and high densities of brush cover will restrict grazing animal accessibility and/or reduce or eliminate forage production. These areas will have to be accounted for when determining the property value for cattle production because the production realized on other acres or income from other enterprises will need to be utilized to pay for nongrazeable acres.
Studies have shown that cattle use decreases as rock cover increases. Rock cover of 30 percent or more could result in no grazing use from most cattle in a herd. Cattle seem to avoid areas with greater than 10 percent slopes if other options are available. Reduced production from high brush densities can be overcome by implementing brush management practices. These practices are usually relatively expensive, and must be accounted for when considering the cost of operation or purchasing land.
Past Land Management
The land health must also be considered. Past management can have a large impact on land health, and large amounts of time and/or money may be needed to overcome misuse by previous managers. A quick soil test on introduced pastures will give you an idea of the soil fertility and what type of nutrient inputs will be needed to meet the management goals you have for the property. Native grass communities could be shifted to less desirable grasses or low production because of past overgrazing. These issues can be corrected with proper management but will need to be thought through when developing a grazing management plan or an analysis of the economic feasibility of purchasing and operating a property.
Water Location and Quality
Water location and quality is essential when evaluating land for cattle production. As a general rule of thumb, cattle prefer not to range more than one-half to three-quarters of a mile from a water source. Therefore, make sure water sources are no farther than 1 mile apart in each pasture. The closer the better, as areas closest to the sources will be more heavily grazed; those furthest away will have little to no grazing activity. Larger and deeper impoundments will typically have better water quality. The larger the water source, the less susceptible it is to drying up in a drought. Well water is usually better quality and a more dependable source, especially during droughts. However, it is prudent to test all water sources to ensure there are no pollutants that could cause an animal to reduce intake or harm. Well water can be high in sulfur and salts that can be detrimental to cattle performance.
What infrastructure will come with the ranch? Is there is an overhead feed bin on-site that could be negotiated in staying after the sale? Overhead feed bins cost $8,000 to $10,000 to purchase, deliver and set up on a ranch. They allow for flexibility in feed types as well as when and from where feed can be procured. Are there quality and large-enough working pens that are strategically placed on the property? Look to see how well the working pens are constructed. Make sure the layout is logical and that cattle will flow calmly and smoothly through the working area. Make sure there is a good, full squeeze chute in the pens, not just a head gate at the end of an alley. Building new working facilities on a ranch is an expensive undertaking, especially if old pens have to be torn out before a new set is built.
Additionally, make sure the ranch has good internal roads. Inclement weather events, especially during the winter and spring months, can make it difficult to get into pastures that are only serviced by dirt roads. If the property has oil field activity, ask who maintains the roads. A good gravel road can make it easy to feed cattle during the rainy season.
What condition are the fences in and are they in the right places? Fence construction typically costs more than $9,000 per mile if built on flat and clear land. If brush has to be removed or earthmoving has to occur to ensure building ease of an effective fence, costs can increase dramatically. Different forage types need to be fenced from each other to be properly managed. Native grasses should not be in the same pasture as introduced grasses or crop ground. All fences need to be in good enough condition to hold the species you plan on grazing. Field fence with several strands of barbed wire on top is desirable in traps located adjacent to working pens and where weaning will occur. Goats will require field fencing to be most effective in containing them. Bulls will require at least a five-strand barbed wire fence in good condition to keep them apart from the cow herd during the nonbreeding season.
Finally, ask if there are easements that could impact property use. Be sure you understand the nature of any and all easements that my impede portions of the land. Pipeline or power transmission line easements will require a certain setback where no building construction can occur. Have there been any easements with private groups that prevent livestock grazing?
This list is not exhaustive and the topics discussed are not intended to be looked at as a make or break on a deal. They are only meant to make you aware of some things to consider when looking at properties. Things such as location, options to purchase other land, goals and objectives, and cost could trump any or all of these. Remember to engage industry experts such as Noble Research Institute consultants, land-grant county extension services or NRCS employees before buying a property to help you make the right decisions. Ask the right questions and take everything into account before deciding to buy. Knowing all this information up front can help you as a potential buyer determine a reasonable value for the ranch.
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As you may already know, Jim and Dawn Gerrish are two of the most notable and knowledgeable people when it comes to land and livestock management, including management-intensive grazing (MiG). Jim has his own consulting business which can save you lots of money right from the start of your adventure in managed grazing. Contact him through American GrazingLands Services, LLC. Find him on Youtube videos and pick up one of his well written books, Management Intensive Grazing – The Grassroots of Grass Farming and Kick the Hay Habit – a Practical Guide to Year Round Grazing.
We think it is far more important to stop making hay on your land than it is to stop feeding hay on your land. Here are some things to think about.
What Made Sense in 1973 Doesn’t Make Sense Today
Making hay is a whole lot more expensive than it used to be. This table compares input costs for making hay in 1973 in contrast to 2013.
All of the input costs have increased at a much faster rate than the value of beef cattle, lamb, or milk. To be on par with costs experienced in 1973, fed cattle should have been $284/cwt, not the $148 they were.
Hay = Inexpensive Fertility
While making hay is expensive, in much of the US, hay can be bought for less than the cost of production. When you buy someone else’s hay and feed it on your property, you are buying their fertility at a highly discounted rate. In some years in some locations, you can buy beef cattle hay for less than the fertilizer value it contains.
This is a great opportunity for improving your land in a way that also benefits soil health.
Feeding Uniformly is the Key
The key to soil improvement is to get the hay fed uniformly over your pastures. This is how you can realize the greatest benefit from purchased hay as a planned fertility input.
Large round bales are still the norm in much of US cow country. Round bales can be unrolled with relatively low-cost equipment. Bales don’t unroll uniformly all the time, but the subsequent manure distribution is way better than feeding bales in ring feeders.
Big square bales can be flaked off easily in a systematic way to cover a specific area with each bale fed.
Bale processors are expensive pieces of equipment. If you are invested in something like this, make sure you are feeding all of your hay to optimize the distribution of manure across the pasture.
We need to be thinking about how much nitrogen and phosphorus is in each bale we are feeding so we can plan our daily feeding to apply appropriate levels of nutrients rather than feeding too little and not realizing the benefit we expected or feeding too much and overloading the soil and environment with excess N. We’ll look at that next week!
Stay tuned! Jim will be covering all the data and math in this series to help us figure out how to do the best we can at improving pastures with hay feeding. If you have questions for Jim, do share them in the comments section below!