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Principles Not Practices

by Dallas Mount

Most of your neighbors think in terms of practices. Should I feed this or that? Should we run this type of cattle or those other ones? Do we calve in this pasture or the one over there? It is easy to understand why we spend so much time talking about practices. Everywhere you turn someone is preaching why doing this or that, will increase your profit or improve your life. At RMC, we teach principles. It is your job to figure out how to apply those principles to your business.

While eating lunch today I had a local rancher approach me asking, “Do you think I should split up my irrigated ground into smaller pastures and move my animals every few days?” My response was, “I have no idea … Are your plants getting adequate rest in between grazings?” 

One of the grazing principles we teach, is that recovery period depends on the rate of growth. Getting the recovery period right is a principle that applies no matter where in the world you ranch. It surprises and frustrates me that some well-meaning people still approach good grazing management like it is snake oil.  The principles have been steady for generations. Does anyone really think that desirable plants being grazed over and over again without the opportunity to recover, is a good thing? Now, a lively discussion about what the appropriate rest period is for your ranch during the different seasons is certainly a great conversation to have, once we have agreement on the principle.  

On the economic side of the ranching business we have been teaching the Gross Margin Analysis for decades. It is based on the economic principles of calculating your Gross Product (the value of your production) and subtracting Direct Costs (those costs that increase proportionally). The costs can be cash costs, or non-cash costs, but they all represent value leaving the business. The remaining Gross Margin is the contribution of that enterprise to servicing business overheads and the profit target. The principle is that you must be able to compare the relative value each enterprise is creating. When we represent Gross Margin on a per unit basis, we have an extremely useful way to compare the performance of each enterprise, relative to the next, and project the scale necessary to meet our objectives.  

At the Ranching for Profit School we don’t tell people what type of cow to run, when they should calve, or what bull to breed to. Heck, maybe cows are not even the right enterprise in the first place! We do give people time tested principles to follow that will lead them to their own discoveries of a plan.

3 Responses to “Principles Not Practices”

January 22, 2020 at 6:45 am, Brian Munger said:

This is great stuff

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January 22, 2020 at 4:09 pm, Becky Waegell said:

Could you point to some reading on how to identify plants that have recovered? Our seasons are so variable these days I’m not sure my estimates are accurate. But what I would like to know is what to look for in a plant to assess recovery. Is it height? Volume? root mass?

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January 23, 2020 at 5:51 pm, John Locke said:

Hello Becky-

That’s a great question! I’m sure you’ve noticed when a leaf is bitten, the animal leaves it with a square, slightly ragged tip. The leaf begins to “heal” as the plant recovers and will eventually grow back to a point.

Recovery of a plant can be identified when the leaves form a point again (and then grow a little more, in my opinion).

You mentioned roots, and while they are not easy to see to check recovery, it is important to note that what you see above the ground should be an indicator of what is happening underground. So, if you graze and allow recovery in a way that is promoting positive healthy leaf growth, you should have the same root growth occuring as well.

Height and volume are something to consider, but in my opinion, there is a trap where a producer can expect more height and volume at the expense of animal performance and at the risk of overrest. In my opinion, just because recovery is good, does not mean A LOT of recovery is better. Of course that depends so much on your plants and climate.

So basically, it is about balance. Adequate recovery and enough height and volume to do the job, but not so much that you’re overresting

Hope that helps

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