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Just Start

by Dallas Mount

We just wrapped up the Abilene Ranching for Profit School. It was an amazing week with 53 forward thinking ranchers who are challenging conventional wisdom and driving their businesses forward. I was joined by John Locke of Hungerford, TX who served as a co-instructor for the school. John has attended the Ranching for Profit School multiple times and has been an Executive Link member for about 7 years. He is an accomplished grazier and is pushing the envelope when it comes to what most people think is possible with grazing (check out John’s YouTube channel GrazeSmarter NotHarder). John led what I thought was an insightful discussion on hesitations about starting a more intensive grazing management program on the ranch. It is common for RFP students new to cell grazing, to be resistant to start for fear of making mistakes. They worry they might not calculate stock days/acre correctly, they worry that stock densities may not be where they need them, and they worry that animal performance might drop lower than they are accustomed to. All these are valid concerns, but delaying the start of an improved grazing program because of these is foolish. The best way to learn is to start, pay attention, and then adjust.

Let’s look at the economics of improved grazing. Many alumni report having doubled carrying capacity and one participant last week reported having tripled capacity over local averages. Let’s assume you only increase capacity by 50%. For a ranch running 400 cows this would mean carrying an extra 200 cows. If the gross margin on a pair is $400, running the additional 200 cows would result in an additional $80,000 in gross margin every year! Just because you are running 200 more cows doesn’t mean you need to add a tractor, employ another unit of labor, or have another set of corrals. These cows will likely be run on the existing overheads. Sure, there might be some additional watering points, water delivery capacity, and perhaps internal fences installed but those should pay for themselves quickly if done correctly. Much of the $80,000 in additional gross margin will end up as additional profit. If profit on the 400 cows was $40,000 then the $80,000 represents a 3X increase in profit with a 50% increase in stocking rate. Pretty motivating! Of course, you need to grow the grass before you increase stocking rate. In the school we emphasize to first focus on building capacity before increasing the stocking rate. 

Being hesitant is normal when starting anything new. One of the most effective ways to start cell grazing is by developing water capacity and combining herds. Many ranches already have the fencing infrastructure to improve grazing management if they were only managing one or two herds. The critical factor is the number of paddocks or pastures per herd. There are a few critical items to monitor when starting: recovery period, animal condition, matching stocking rate, and carrying capacity. Each of these can be addressed through changes in the grazing if someone is paying attention. It is possible that we will not get all of these right all of the time, but don’t let the fear of making mistakes keep you from giving it a go. There is a big upside to developing an effective grazing program.

3 Responses to “Just Start”

December 11, 2019 at 7:40 am, lo-overheads said:

Any suggestions on implementing cell grazing and cutting out hay before increase in stocking rate? How many operations do you see cut out most or all substitution feeding plus increase carrying capacity?

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December 11, 2019 at 10:45 am, Garry said:

I never achieved a large increase in stocking rate, but I would still always recommend cell grazing to anyone that seemed capable and willing to provide the management. With the paddocks in place you can easily monitor grass growth and animal consumption. Allocating feed and drought planning become feasible. I can also inspect all the cattle in a fraction of the time it would take to locate and inspect just a portion of them in a set stocked operation. Gathering cattle is a one man operation.
However as the number of paddocks increases so does the need to pay attention. I compare it driving a sports car: the more paddocks you have, the faster the car moves. Don’t put a 16 year old in a Porsche!

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December 13, 2019 at 2:07 pm, Dallas Mount said:

To lo-overheads: The goal is increasing land health which often results in an increase in carrying capacity. How you use that increase in carrying capacity is a good question. We measure carrying capacity by the stock-days/acre. This can be used to extend the grazing season (reducing feeding of harvested feeds) or to increase the numbers in an enterprise. The Gross Margin of that enterprise will give some guidance as to which one of those is the right direction. More often the reduction of harvested feed is the best use. I bet some readers of this could comment on their own situation and what route they went down.

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