Tag Archives: ranching

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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Tradition vs Innovation Paradox

Another great blog from Ranch Management Consultants (Ranching for Profit).  If what you are doing regularly is only a tradition – start questioning why you continue and if the practice is still effective for today’s economy, whether for your home or business.

sunset cowboyAgriculture is steeped in tradition. These traditions serve as a source of pride and continuity which help make us who we are in agriculture. However, these same traditions create a paradox of sorts when it comes to managing the business of ranching. Balancing respect for traditions and fostering innovation can be tricky to navigate. Another complicating factor in ranching is that business leadership is often slower to transition than most. Generally this is because the decision making is in the hands of a generation that would have retired 10-20 years ago in any other industry. This generation is often making decisions from a place of risk minimization … rightly so from their perspective. However, when Junior is wanting to expand the business to support a growing family this can pit two very different business strategies against each other which often creates conflict on the family ranch.

I think there are some traditions on a ranch that need to be challenged to position the ranch to be successful in the coming decades. Each operation will need to find its own balance between tradition and innovation. Having clear goals will help determine the appropriate balance of risk management and growth strategy for the business.

Below is a short list of common ranch traditions that I suggest you look at and examine why you are doing what you are doing, then put some numbers to what it might look like if you did things differently. I’m certainly not suggesting everyone must change these traditions but have a discussion with your team about the pros and cons of staying the same or changing.

  • Grazing management
    I see far too many ranches where tradition determines the grazing plan rather than good planning. Effective grazing management is one of the most powerful economic levers you can pull. Does each pasture get adequate rest for plant recovery after every grazing? Are your animals in a pasture long enough to allow a second bite? I have never visited a ranch that couldn’t improve their grazing which would allow the ranch to increase carrying capacity, often as much as doubling historic stocking rates, while still improving the condition of the land. Often the driving force for not improving grazing practices involve hanging on to old traditions. Many equate better grazing with more fences or more work. Neither of these must be true.
  • Needing lots of stuff to ranch
    Here is an interesting thought experiment. Make a list of every piece of equipment on the ranch and what it would be worth if sold today. Total up the dollars and now pretend you have that money as cash in your hand and you have no equipment. Paint a picture in your mind of the type of business you want to build. Now, ask the question, “How would we best deploy the capital we now have to create the business we want?” Would you spend it all or save some for a cushion? When times are good on the ranch, we often fall into the trap of upgrading tools that make our lives easier. It is very difficult to go backwards in creature comforts once we step forward. However, from the numbers I’ve seen it is the rare piece of equipment that creates more cash flow than it costs in depreciation and repairs. Tradition might lead us to believe that we need all this stuff to ranch, but economics might be telling us that all this stuff is part of what makes ranching so financially difficult.
  • We should be running cows
    But we have always run cows! What is the purpose of your ranch? Is it to create opportunities for owners to do the things they enjoy or is it to create cash flow and profit to support the owners and provide opportunities for others? Might these two things be in contrast? I’m not saying you can’t run cows and be profitable, but often I observe ranchers who see no other alternative to the current enterprise structure on the ranch. I also don’t believe it is a problem if ownership sees the ranch as a place to allow them to do the things they enjoy – such as running cows. I do see a conflict when the ranch isn’t creating the outcomes required and people are unwilling to look beyond traditional enterprises. Might it be that the ranch could be an even more enjoyable place if it were highly profitable?

Following that line of thought, what other traditions should be challenged on your ranch? Which traditions must be held on to? There are some traditions that are core to who we are, let’s be sure we don’t jeopardize those in pursuit of profit. Balancing the paradox of tradition and innovation is part of what makes this business so interesting.

Watching Grass Grow

Thank you to all of you who take the time to ‘like’ or read or view my blog postings.  Goodness knows, some of them are pretty specific to ranching and farming, but since we all eat then, perhaps in a small way, nearly all of them relate to all of us – so, just maybe not really interesting.  These videos are great illustrations of why growing grass, then properly managing it for optimum animal, soil, forage, water, and ultimately human health is so important.  If you are into the carbon credit, carbon sink, carbon sequestration thing, this is the heart of the matter.  So, here we go…..!  Thanks to On Pasture for finding and sharing great information.

Let’s Watch Grass Grow!

By   /  January 20, 2020  /  1 Comment

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You know how we always tell you that leaving more leaves of grass results in quicker recovery, and quicker recovery means more forage for your livestock?  If you’d like to see that in action, here some videos you’ll like.

This first video is a comparison of the difference in response between Orchard grass continuously grazed to about 1″ height and rotationally grazed Orchard grass left at 3.5 inches tall. It’s taken over a 5 day period.

Here’s the last picture in the series to give you a closer look:

This second video does the same comparison with tall fescue. The grass on the left was grazed continuously to 1″. The grass on the right was rotationally grazed to 3.5 inches.

Again, here’s the final picture in the time-lapse:

It’s also interesting to compare the responses of different grasses. This last video compares Orchard grass on the left to fescue on the right. Both were “grazed” to 3.5 inches once a month. The video takes place over 7 days.

Here’s the last picture from this time-lapse series:

What kind of ideas do these videos give you?

Of course, time of year that grazing occurs and the amount of rest between grazings all factor in to the complex task a grazier has of managing stock. For more, check out this two-part series from Dave Pratt about grazing heights, rest and recovery times, and seasonality.

This picture links to an article by Dave Pratt talking about why it is one of the most important words in a grazier’s vocabulary if you want to build capacity on your farm or ranch.

This week he applies his principle of “leaving more leaves” to show how this works as forages change through the growing season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she’s not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

1 COMMENT

  1. CURT GESCH says:

    The photo time lapse sequence is great: clear and convincing (if we needed any convincing). It’s also something we could do at home in pots, but maybe better than that in a field with a rest for a stationery camera. I would like to see 1″ versus 6″ on Orchard grass. Maybe I’ll try to set it up?

 

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Mob stocked paddocks with heavy utilization followed by a long rest.  Proven practice that builds soil, forage diversity, healthy livestock diet, deep roots providing protection against soil erosion of all types.  View of Fundo Panguilemu.
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Proper land management results in this sward!  My camera does not do justice to the beautiful example coaxed by Jose and Elizabeth, (owners of Fundo Panguilemu), with the use of their cattle and sheep.  Contact Jose in Chile to help develop your plan or in the States, Jim Gerrish, American Grazinglands Services, LLC
80095777_2736820309878769_4123042271991955456_o
This kind of grazing management (short duration mobbing, long rest period) is what creates magnificent sward of healthy soil and forage.  Thanks to Elizabeth Barkla de Gortazar for this illustrative photo.
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No bare soil here!
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A luscious sward for beauty and health.

Waiting

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

 

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Scooping out a water tank that filled with mud

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

Cheers!

tauna

RMC’S Sustainable Management

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

RMC’s Ten Fundamental Truths of Sustainable Ranching

  1. TRANSFORMING your business BEGINS WITH TRANSFORMING yourself

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

     

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

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

     

  3. FOCUS ON effectiveness NOT EFFICIENCY

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

     

  4. GET IN SYNCH with nature

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

     

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

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

     

  6. WORK LESS and  make more

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

     

  7. RANCHING is a business

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

     

  8. WORK ON YOUR BUSINESS two mornings a week

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

     

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

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

     

  10. RANCHING FOR PROFIT is NOT an oxymoron

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

    Blessing!

    tauna

Top 5 Business Management Actions on the Farm/Ranch

This reblogged from Ranch Management Consultants.

Top 5 Business Management Actions on the Farm/Ranch

by Dallas Mount

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes for a joyful and prosperous 2020!

 

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Ranching in the Future

Here’s an excellent article explaining the impossibility of entry level ranchers and farmers.  Unless land and agriculture prices come to a reckoning, land will be owned by the wealthy and worked by those with a passion for land management.  We are headed that way culturally rapidly given the advanced age of current land owners.  With few heirs waiting to farm or ranch, the land will sell to the highest bidder far above its production value.

Shalom!

tauna

Ranching in the Future – What Should Young Ranchers Expect?

By   /  January 7, 2019  /  4 Comments

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I recently received a note from a young friend (let’s call her Peggy Sue) who desperately wants to be a rancher. Since her childhood she has dreamed of working with animals. She has learned about marketing and economics. She’s studied hard and become a competent grazier. She’s done some hard work. But she’s getting a little impatient.

“So, I’ve been looking at real estate ads all over the country, studying up on productivity of land in different places, trying to look up how many acres per cow it takes and how much each acre costs, and I just can’t figure this thing out. How are people doing it? I mean, how are people able to buy a ranch and pay for it by raising cattle?”

My immediate answer was not what she had been hoping for:

“I don’t know of anyone in America who is buying a ranch and paying for it by running cattle. This doesn’t mean you can never be a rancher—you can be. But going forward, you will only be successful as a rancher if you accept the realities of the current world. You must be able to adopt a definition of ranch and rancher that fits in the economic universe in which you currently live. And guess what? This is true for every other new rancher, too.”

Sorry, Peggy Sue.

Past, Present and Future Ranching Models

Both my wife’s and my own family trees are well stocked with hopeful people who put together ranching operations 100 or more years ago. First was homesteading, and later on there was picking up the pieces from other folks whose homesteads had failed. There was hard work and sacrifice. Fundamentally, the ranches of 100 years ago were founded on using land to grow grass and cattle. Land values were tied intimately to productive value of the land and the then-current values of the cattle market. And so, our ancestors built successful ranches.

Those days are over. The conditions under which our ancestors operated no longer exist.

Today, properties do not become available through homesteading or abandonment, and in general, ranch land prices have very little relationship to productive value. Other influences such as hunting and fishing, scenic view, and privacy are the determining factors in land price. The model described above: working hard to build functional ranches by acquiring and paying for land with cattle, is apparently not possible in today’s world.

In our own little valley, even though there is virtually no influence by hunting or fishing values or high mountain views, the value of land has now risen to the point where pastureland prices are clearly irrational. Turns out, there are plenty of people with plenty of money who just want to live in the country, and they will pay whatever it takes. In the 1980s, I told Ranching for Profit guru Stan Parsons that my chief concern with becoming a rancher was that land in my area was selling for $5,000 per cow unit. Currently, that value is more like $20,000. At $20,000, the land overhead PITI (Principle, Interest, Taxes, Insurance) is something like $2,000 per cow per year.

It should be mathematically obvious that the current land value situation absolutely precludes the possibility of becoming a rancher, if you think ranching has to look like it did 100 years ago.

So, is it possible for my young friend to become a rancher? Absolutely. But that will require her to accept a different definition of what ranching looks like and of what being a rancher means.

Going Forward: Ranchers of the Future

A principle of motion discovered by Sir Isaac Newton over 300 years ago applies directly here, I think:

I believe the trends that we have witnessed in ranching over the past 100 years or so will likely continue. These trends will determine what ranching will look like going forward, and the possibilities for present and future ranchers.

Here are some current trends to consider:

Land Prices

I believe the price of land will continue to escalate and will have less and less relationship to productive value. This means new ranchers will need to seek models that do not include “buying a ranch and paying for it with cattle.”

Other Input Costs

The cost of oil, iron, processed feed, and other inputs will continue to advance relative to the value of traditional ranch products. Future ranchers need to design models that place less emphasis on these things.

Technology

Our industry has become highly dependent upon technology. Whether this is a good thing or not is hard for me to tease out. That said, ranches of the future will surely include more technology. Ranchers of the future should build business models that take advantage of new technologies. This is certainly critical for businesses that involve direct marketing.

Societal/Political Change

There has been sweeping change in the relationship between urban and rural populations. Our urban neighbors are ever more interested in ecological issues, animal welfare, food safety, transportation, and on and on. Going forward, this trend will result in a higher degree of regulation of ranching activities on all fronts. Young ranchers should plan accordingly.

Diversity of Products and Services

Increasingly, ranches have become more and more involved in producing things beyond just meat on the hoof. Young ranchers of the future should consider business models that include providing even more diverse products and services. Growing hamburger is a low margin enterprise. Providing sites for weddings, hunting, vacations, etc. can be very high-margin enterprises. Like it or not, this may be what opportunity looks like in the future.

The Decline of the Rugged Individual

It seems to me that image of the rancher as a rugged, independent operator has always been a bit overblown. My great grandparents (and every generation since) were highly dependent on cooperation for survival. Going forward, I believe ranching will look more and more like other industries, with intensely complicated, inter-dependent systems of producers, suppliers, marketers and customers. Ranches will offer a wider and wider range of services, and they will serve a wider range of customers. No ranch will be an island unto itself.

(The exception to this will be the ranches that are owned outright by folks who have un-limited assets, and so, can do anything they want. These may be ranches, but I question whether they are Ranch Businesses.)

The Big Question: To Own, or Not to Own

Oregon author William Kittredge wrote a fine biography called “Owning it All”, a story about growing up in the big ranch country of the American West. I think young ranchers should consider exactly the opposite course: Owning almost nothing. And here’s some of what that might look like:

Owning portable fencing, corrals, and water equipment. Renting or leasing grass that land owners don’t want or don’t know how to manage. Same goes for livestock. Selling your expertise and skills as a grass and property manager. Becoming expert in managing the accessory enterprises that ranches will contain in the future: tourism, education, entertainment, recreation, sport, etc. Note: be sure to make enough profit to fund your own retirement, as you will not be accumulating any real estate.

Decisions, Decisions.

I could be wrong about all of the predictions above. Maybe land costs will magically revert to align with productive value. Maybe young ranchers will be able to enter the industry, buy some land and livestock and make out just fine. Maybe. But I doubt it. I think young ranchers would be well advised to conjure up a business plan that includes the parameters and limitations we now operate under, and think carefully about what the future might look like.

Best wishes to Peggy Sue in the coming year. Oh, and to the ranchers of the next 100 years, too!

Happy Grazing, Happy New Year, and a Happy Future

John Marble

Stay tuned for future articles with examples of how young farmers and ranchers are building their businesses.

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  • Published: 2 weeks ago on January 7, 2019
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  • Last Modified: January 7, 2019 @ 8:40 am
  • Filed Under: Money Matters

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Marble grew up on a terribly conventional ranch with a large family where each kid had their own tractor. Surviving that, he now owns a small grazing and marketing operation that focuses on producing value through managed grazing. He oversees a diverse ranching operation, renting and owning cattle and grasslands while managing timber, wildlife habitat and human relationships. His multi-species approach includes meat goats, pointing dogs and barn cats. He has a life-long interest in ecology, trying to understand how plants, animals, soils and humans fit together. John spends his late-night hours working on fiction, writing about worlds much less strange than this one.