Tag Archives: plan

Profitable Ranch Strategies

Although Jim’s article in On Pasture is specifically geared towards livestock/pasture management, the principles can easily be applied to any business.

 

Kick the Hay Habit – Jim Gerrish’s Tips for Getting Started

By   /  September 17, 2018  /  No Comments

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This week’s Classic by NatGLC is from Jim Gerrish. Jim will be speaking about Grazing Lands Economics at the National Grazing Lands Conference in Reno in December, so we thought you’d like to have an idea of what he might cover. Jim is one of over over 50 producers who will be part of the conference talking about innovative grazing management. We hope you’ll join us! Register before October 16 to get the reduced rate of $395, and bring a friend or spouse with you for just $175 more.

Hay feeding still ranks as one of the top costs of being in the cow-calf business in the U.S. The good news is we do see more and more livestock producers ‘Kicking the Hay Habit’ with each passing year. There is much more to kicking the habit than just deciding one day that you’re not going to feed any more hay. It usually takes several management changes to get there.

Here are what I am seeing as the top five moves for getting out of the hay feeding rut.

1. Have a plan for year-around grazing.

This doesn’t mean just hoping you have some grass left over in the fall to use during winter. It means making a critical evaluation of all of your forage resources and mapping out when they can be used most optimally. Develop a calendar of when your stock are going to have their highest and lowest demands. As an industry we have given a lot of lip service to matching forage and animal resources, but the majority of ranchers still do a pretty poor job of implementing a sound plan.

2. Change your calving season to a less demanding time of year.

It is much easier to graze a dry, pregnant cow through the winter than a lactating mama. For many of today’s moderate to high milk producing beef cows, daily forage demand at peak lactation is 50-80% higher than when she is at dry, pregnant maintenance. Late spring or early summer calving seasons work well in a lot of ranch country once you change your mind about a few things. I’ve met very few ranchers who switched to later calving who ever went back to winter calving.

3. Make sure your cattle match your environment and climatic conditions.

You really want your cattle to survive and thrive on the native resources of your ranch. The more petroleum and iron you put between the sun’s solar energy and your cow’s belly, the less profitable you are likely to be. Cattle should be able to earn their own living. You shouldn’t have to earn it for them. Consider every head of cattle on your place to be a ranch employee. Your primary job as manager is to create a working environment for your employees to do their job.

4. Manage all of your pasture and rangeland more intensively.

CP snow grazing Oct 26This does not mean graze it more intensively, this means manage it more intensively. If you do, you will get more forage production and greater carrying capacity from your land. Simply rationing out what you are already growing is one of the easiest places to pick up more grazing days from every acre. One of the strongest arguments I can make for Management-intensive Grazing (MiG) in the summertime is to create more winter pasture opportunities.

5. Change range use from summer grazing to winter grazing.

In most environments with degraded rangeland, switching to predominantly winter use is a great strategy for improving range condition. Many public lands offices are very willing to work with ranchers on this kind of positive change. We do see some agency offices and employees who drag their feet on making any kind of change, but most are willing to work with you if you have a grazing plan that will help them meet their conservation goals.

IMG_9954You may not need to make all these changes in your operation. It depends on where you are right now and where you want to end up being. While some operations go cold turkey and try to make the entire shift in a single year, it may be easier to make the transition over 3 or 4 years. You will take some learning and adjustments to get comfortable with the new approach. Your livestock will also need to adapt to the new management regime.

Most beef herds in the US and Canada are made up of cows that are too big and have too much milking ability to live within the resource capability of the land base. Winter grazing is a lot easier with the proper type of cow on your place. Making the switch in calving season might be as easy as just holding the bulls out for a couple extra months. Changing cow type to a more moderate framed and lower milk producing animal will take quite a bit longer.

The key point is to have a plan for making the transition with a clear target of where you want to go.

Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible.

We hope you’ll join the On Pasture crew at this year’s conference in Reno. We love it because there are so many producers sharing their experience from all across the country. We always learn a lot! Remember – registration goes up to $475 on October 16!

 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Gerrish is the author of “Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming” and “Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing” and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO’s to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.

“The God Code” – Documentary

Just watching this now – it is available ONLY until the 14th of April.  I’m watching through Direct TV, but there are other options.

The God Code – History Channel

 

ABOUT

Behind locked doors in St. Petersburg, Russia is the Leningrad Codex, the world’s oldest complete text of the Hebrew Bible. Because of its ancient origins, it is a purer version of the Bible–containing words and characters lost in later translations. Timothy Smith, an antiquities expert, believes he’s found an intricate code hidden within its text, one that may not show up in later translations. This two-hour special takes viewers on a journey across the globe to find out if the hidden code is real. If it is, could this be the actual word of God? A code written into his own divine work. A master plan for history? The code is said to point to a diverse variety of historical events from the rise of Hitler to the threat of North Korea and it may even point to the location of one of the greatest treasures of all, the lost Arc of the Covenant.

Tweaking the Plan

Since the first of the year, i’ve headed to the local YMCA just 10 minutes drive away and working out (walking at least 10,000 steps according to Fitbit and lifting weights) for 2 to 2 1/2 hours each morning.  Our YMCA opens a bit before 5am, so this is a perfect time for me to go.  I’m usually awake anyway and it’s far too cold outside to do anything, plus it’s dark.

Anyway, like the others who come in early to workout, i plug into my phone and listen to something.  I really enjoy listening to audio books through our local library‘s subscription to Hoopla.  Granted, i suspect there is not as many books on offer as a paid subscription like Audiobooks, but Hoopla is included in our library membership.  But, i mix up the books with Youtube of grazing and cattle management experts.  This has included Jim Gerrish, Jaime Elizondo Braum, Johann Zietsman, Doug Peterson, Greg Judy, David Pratt, Allen Williams.

Continuing education is necessary in any endeavour and as margins tighten and disappear in cattle production it becomes critical to discover little ways to squeeze a bit of income out of our chosen career despite outside pressures OR to discover that you must forge a totally different path if this one simply can no longer be financially sustained.

Regardless of one’s age, evaluation of your chosen work needs doing regularly, but having just turned 56, it may be time consider winding down and looking at retirement.  Nevertheless, the older we get, we must discover if what we are doing is the most effective use of our time and energy (which physically wanes).  If the activity is marginally profitable, then what can be done to make it more profitable without increasing labor (labor and feed are huge costs in raising livestock).  Or are we better purposed to volunteer, counsel, or help our children more.

  1. Last year, i used a lot of iron (tractors, rotavator, plough disk, no-till drill) to establish, first, 18 acres of annuals, and second, establish a permanent ley on 50 acres.  The first experiment resulted in quality grazing, but not more grazing as measured in cow days per acre, than my poor quality forage already growing.  So, i don’t plan to incur that cost again, though my soil may have experienced some improvement.  The second experiment was severely hampered by the lack of rain for the seeds to grow.  However, it may have been a blessing, 1) a better kill of the toxic endophyte fescue due to dry and hot weather, and 2) the seeds hopefully did not germ and will come up this spring.  Time will tell on that here in about 3 months.  However, this project was extremely expensive at $175/acre.
  2. Last year, i also had lime spread on the 160 at the rate of 2 tons per acre for a cost of $66/acre.  The addition of lime typically doesn’t show any production increase for a couple years.
  3. Bale feeding was used quite a lot on various parts of my paddocks.  This may very well be the fastest way to build soil health, but it’s expensive (like all inputs) and time consuming to place the bales.
  4. Last year, I also synchronised my cows with hormones and AI’d a good portion of them.  The reason was because i was going to shorten my breeding season once again to 45 days vs 65 days.  This is expensive, but it does seem to help.  However, due to ragweed allergies, i am simply unable to remove the bulls from the pasture on 1 September, so i will change my plan and leave the bulls in for 60 days and simply sell those that do not calve within the 45 day window.  This does not, however, address the fact that i don’t want to calve for 60 days.  Nothing to be done for that.  Allergies rule my schedule in this regard.

So, tweaking my plan for this year will be to:

  1. no mechanical disturbance or seed inputs (including broadcast)
  2. no liming or other fertiliser input purchases (save up to $100/acre)
  3. Utilize bale grazing extensively to increase soil health (microbial activity) and organic matter (improve tilth) (the only down side here is the time spent to set the bales in the paddocks in proper manner in preparation for winter grazing)
  4. eliminate the synchronising and AI costs.  This eliminates the time spent in mustering and sorting the cows 3 times, shots and CIDRS, semen costs, and AI technician expense.  All these costs add up to about $80 per cow.
  5. purchase hay early for possible reduced cost per bale (purchasing in winter tends to drive up cost due to increased demand)  (delivered hay costs from 4 cents to 15 cents per pound depending on quality and demand)
  6. Manage my time to allow ultra high stock density grazing (UHDG) at least part of the year to increase forage diversity, water infiltration, and soil health.  (time is a problem here because of my farm being a 35 minute drive from my home, it is counter productive if this increases labor that would be expensed to cows)

OR:

  1. let go, rent out the land, and sell my cows – no work.  the drawbacks are having to quibble with renters on their lack of care and watching your land erode, grow up in brush, and/or wash away.  Repair and clean up can be costly at the end of the renting period.

So, should i continue ranching – and realistically, i plan to – giving it up unless necessary is not really a consideration, although it should be,  then i need to decide whether to reduce the number of cows to what my pastures can sustain during the non growing season (winter  – about 5 months and summer heat – about 1 month), OR increase cow numbers to manage the growing season flush and buy in enough hay to feed them during the winter.  Hay purchase and feeding will also improve the soil, so there is added value to that.

No one else can make this decision, although there are a lot of suggestions and i really appreciate all the expert and seasoned ranchers sharing their experiences – these have guided me .

Just Breathe,

tauna