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Two For The Price Of One

by Dave Pratt

Would you like a free ranch? This summer I had the pleasure of visiting several Ranching For Profit School alumni ranches from Texas to Montana and points in between.  Most are applying cell grazing and are producing impressive results. Cell grazing involves giving paddocks adequate rest, keeping graze periods short, increasing stock density and adjusting the stocking rate annually and seasonally to match the carrying capacity. It is not a grazing system, but a set of principles that, applied with a little common sense, works in any grazing environment. John Schipf from Highwood, Montana is one of the alumni I visited with this summer.  He’s been using cell grazing for about 4 years. He credits it for doubling the carrying capacity of his property. John said, “It’s like getting a second ranch for free.”


You’d think with these kinds of results, more people would be using cell grazing.  A lot of ranchers use some kind of grazing rotation. Most assume that because they move animals from one place to another that their pastures are getting healthier and they get some economic benefit. The truth is that most ranchers get little if any ecological or economic benefit from their rotations. In fact, most rotations don’t even prevent overgrazing. A rotation with fewer than 8 paddocks isn’t rotational grazing.  It is rotational overgrazing.


Some ranchers tell me they resist cell grazing because they don’t want to look at a lot of fences or open a lot of gates just to get from point A to point B. They assume it’ll be more work, constantly moving cows from one pasture to another.


Most of the alumni who see big improvements in carrying capacity use at least 25 paddocks per herd. Some use as many as 40-50, yet the fences are barely noticeable.  Some alumni are starting to use spider fencing, which consists of 16 gauge high tensile wire and super high quality fiberglass posts. With a simple homemade adaptation to the undercarriage of a 4-wheeler or a pick-up, you won’t need to open gates to drive from one place to another.  You can drive right over the fence.


To provide more paddocks per herd, rather than building more paddocks, most alumni start by combining herds.  This doesn’t increase labor, it reduces labor. After all, it takes less time to check one herd of 500 cows than two herds of 250 cows.  But the bigger breakthrough comes from increasing the carrying capacity. In John’s case, doubling the cows in the herd on the same land base didn’t increase labor; it just changed the way labor was used.


Derek Schwanebeck is one of the alumni I met with this summer. Using cell grazing he’s also been able to double his carrying capacity. I like the way Derek described the change in the workload with cell grazing.  He told me, “These days we work our minds way harder than we work our bodies.” 

If you are ready to work your mind and see big improvements in your land, your life and your bottom line, we are ready to work with you at the Ranching For Profit School.

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