My good friend, Greg Judy, who actually has a Youtube channel to which you can subscribe for his interesting and informative videos about farming/ranching and a whole host of other topics related to profitable cattle and sheep farming, has offered up some key points for considering land purchases for your specific goals.
The check list really hasn’t changed in considerations for the purchase throughout history.
Buying undeveloped land may seem less expensive, but bear in mind the high cost of making it livestock worthy (or whatever it is you will use your land for). Perimeter fencing is expensive made even more so if hiring a bulldozer to clear the fence rows first is necessary.
As we get older, land which may be more expensive yet closer to a hospital or at least a sealed road will likely become more important.
If you are so fortunate to find a reasonably price parcel in the location important you, with limited buildings, then don’t wait because someone else will buy it. Desirable parcels of property are snapped up very fast. My observations of looking for properties, indicates that poor properties are offered at ridiculous prices just hoping for someone to bite; quality, in-demand properties will sell immediately and land auctions are becoming more popular due to immediate sell and they are bringing a premium price.
If the neighbours aren’t interested in the property and it has been languishing on the market, that is a red flag that something is wrong – do in depth research. Oftentimes, it can be high taxes, poor production values, swampy land, no water, low rainfall, the lay of the land requires constant maintenance (i have a 160 like that, every little rain causes my deep watergaps to blow out, fighting encroaching brush is an annual and long days event)
My personal search requires:
enough acreage in one block location with minimal perimeter (in other words more squarish, not nooks and crannies. one property online had 11 miles of perimeter to maintain yet enclosing only 1700 acres!)
A nice home which has been built with finishes which stand the test of time. Too many homes from the 80s and 90s and so faddish inside, it needs to be completely gutted and redone. May be better to tear it down and start again. Not out of the range of possibility, just be sure you aren’t paying twice for a new home.
Live water with no or little flood plain.
Located on a sealed road with minimal traffic
Near infrastructure to livestock auctions and other supportive ranch venues
Warm winters, warm winters, warm winters – did i mention warm winters?!
Minimal timber and very little brush.
I would like to not be close enough to neighbors to hear or see them, but within 2 hours of a major airport.
Price is critical – i’m not rich – the ranch i buy must find a way to pay for itself or at the least provide a good rate of return. This is nearly impossible in today’s environment where there is very little low risk good investment. Land is in too expensive for its productive value.
As i get older, i’m more aware of how much time and hard work a piece of property can be. Many years ago, my grandpa gave me a 160 acre piece of his land and i now realize that he was about my age now when he gave it. I was much younger and was thrilled, but now i can see that he was probably tired of managing and fixing all its problems. In fact, it is only about the east 80 acres of the farm i now have that incurs 80% of the work i do on the 520 acres i now own/manage. (it is a sad reflection of our time that in north Missouri that is no where near enough property to make a living on). At the same time, it’s the corner of that piece that is the best for working and loading out livestock. (interestingly, my daughter, at about age 11 made the comment, ‘i don’t like this farm, it is too much work!”)
Truth be told, if it was possible for me to control the land to the north of me and to the south, i could all but eliminate the massive erosion and washing problems which cause my little piece to be so much work. But i don’t, so difficult repairs are recurring. Controlling the ‘heads’ of the water by building ponds or dams would practically stop all but the worst rain events which cause such destruction. The biggest help would be to seed down the hills that are being farmed every year. There are no roots to hold any soil in place and increase water infiltration on acres and acres of slope.
So, a point i’m trying to make is – look to your future self when purchasing a property – is this property you are considering fixable? or will it be constant work? We actually looked at a property last year that was adjoining and for sale, but with all it’s deep ditches and no control of the head, it would be more work than what we wanted to take on now at retirement age. It is FAR too much asking price anyway. (It’s still for sale)
Enonkishu Conservancy, (Maa for ‘place of healthy cattle’) located in southwestern Kenya, is one of the newest Savory Hubs. Designed to demonstrate the attributes of managed grazing in a challenging environment and to encourage local community involvement. The young couple who have pulled this endeavor together to qualify as a Savory Hub and move forward with implementation have indeed set a challenging yet heartfelt mission before them.
Their stated mission:
Enonkishu Conservancy is committed to sustainable rangeland management that allows space and resources for all people, cattle, and wildlife. To achieve this it seeks a balance between conservation of the ecosystem and appropriate enterprise for the resident Maasai communities. Enonkishu is adopting a unique approach to conserving land by creating a viable livestock enterprise through a Holistic Management (HM) Approach. Through HM, Enonkishu intends to improve productivity of the livestock in the region, improve livelihoods and maintain heritage.”
The desire to improve the land, livestock, and wildlife is admirable, but no more so than the commitment to lift up the lives of the local people by finding ways for more children to seek formal education and to put more dollars in the pockets of families.
‘Regenerative’ is the new buzzword and thinking to replace ‘sustainable.’ I think it’s a good change. Why sustain something that is in decline or degraded? Regeneration of poor soils is tantamount to improved lives. From the dust of the earth was man created -Genesis 2:7.
However, offering and encouraging education in holistic management or any other ideology must be introduced with gentleness and respect into a culture and society which may push back with decades of ingrained practices and customs. Even in our rural county in Missouri, USA with one of the premier managed-grazing schools at our fingertips, there is little adoption of the regenerative practices. To form a cooperative of producers willing to allow their comingled cow herds to be managed as one mob by someone else on comingled land would not even be considered. Yet this is the simplified explanation of one component of what is happening with Enonkishu Conservancy and the Mara Training Centre. With any new organisation, family or business, there are growing and learning pains. Rookie mistakes, which should be avoided by heeding advice from those who have already made them, creep into any undertaking. One of the key elements of Allan Savory’s management courses is defining goals and testing objectives. Good, basic advice for anyone at any point in their lives.
Admittedly, i’m glad i don’t have to manage the massive number of mega wildlife that Lippa and Tarquin do – no worries about lions, leopards, elephants, zebras here in north Missouri. Wow!
We learnt so much on this wonderful expedition – not only did we meet great travel mates, hosts, servers, and leaders, but we enjoyed safari and game drives, superb meals prepared by Chef Purity and graciously served by Godfrey, guides who surely have no equal, and opportunities to enjoy local life. More on all that in future entries.
Two hours on that sort of gravel road was the last of our five hour drive from Nairobi to House In the Wild. I’ll not complain about gravel roads in Jackson Township, Linn County, Missouri, USA again!
Even though the soil is much better covered on the Enonkishu Conservancy, despite the massive amounts of wildlife (which continues to increase because of better forage), there is much work to be done. My observations are that the cows are the forward grazers and receive the more mature grasses. This, of course, challenges them to maintain body condition. I don’t know what the conception rates are. I asked about how the wildlife are managed and the comments was that oddly, the wildlife seems to follow the cattle. This is no mystery as to why they do this! The wildlife are getting that coveted second bite, the one that shouldn’t be taken until the grass has had adequate rest. This is one point that many graziers differ with Allan Savory’s grazing management. He says that the amount of time grazing is the most important, whereas many of us believe the amount of time rested is most important. The key is to move the stock before the blades can be grazed too short- often this is one bite, then move on. However, time grazing and time resting will vary with seasons and weather conditions. For example, in my operation in a typical fast growing cool season forages spring, the cows will be in a paddock no more than three days, then that paddock should rest at least 30 days. However, if the rains don’t come, this rest period could easily extend to 60 or 90 days. This would require longer stays in paddocks and possible herd reduction.
Anyway, my point is that the wildlife on Enonkishu are fat grazing the creme of the grass crop and quite likely slowing down the regenerative process. However, tourism is a huge part of the income and goals, so this must be taken into consideration and balance.
The boma is a mainstay amongst cattlemen and shepherds in conservancies of southwestern Kenya. Stock must be corralled each night for protection from serious predators like lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, and other wildlife which like beef as much as we do. Bomas are designed to be easily set up and taken down and the overnight dunging by mobbed stock can improve soil structure and productivity very quickly IF the area is allowed to rest for along time after use.
The Enonkishu Conservancy as a new Savory Hub is doing a smart, yet difficult thing. Mistakes in management have been made and I hope that leaders will continue learning and talking to people who are not only ‘experts’ but also producers, those of us who put these ideas to practice. We’ve already made the mistakes and most are glad to share our failures and successes.
The benefits of managing trees and timbers far outweigh the tree-hugger (an environmental campaigner used in reference to the practice of embracing a tree in an attempt to prevent it from being felled) concept of saving all or specific trees. Biblically, we are instructed to tend and keep the garden – not let it run rampant into total chaos. Work is not a four-letter word in the negative sense and it behooves us all to manage for effectiveness, efficiency, helpfulness, integrity, and beauty.
As Greg Judy shares, there are two ways to establish silvopasture or savannah. One way is to clear out dead or unproductive trees in existing timber or to plant a diverse mixture of productive and valuable trees. Planting and establishing a new timber will take decades before reaching its full potential, but if you didn’t start decades ago, might as well start now.
Unmanaged timbers will eventually become worthless – full of scraggly crooked trees which will never grow if the older trees are not harvested at their peak of quality. The heavy canopy old tall trees prevent youngsters from reaching their full potential. Even though the old fogy’s will eventually die, the young trees may never recover and the timber itself will fail. This may take a millennia, but why not manage it, sustaining, regenerating, as well as taking off a cash crop to help pay the bills.
Trees and timber are so important in our environment – for people, livestock, wildlife, soil. Shade is the first benefit which often comes to mind. Evapotranspiration is the ‘coolest’ sort of shade there is – much better than that provided by a shade cloth or roof. Additionally, we harvest fuel, wildlife, forage diversity, shelter, lumber, and a beautiful landscape. But management is more than harvesting, it also requires protection from overuse by livestock and even wildlife, yet on the flip side, excluding animal use will allow brush overgrowth and a buildup of fire fuel, which during a dry hot spell could catch fire and destroy your timber in a matter of moments.
Trees which are allowed to grow large around ditches, draws, and branches destabilize the banks. Their large roots won’t hold the soil as well as millions of deep rooted grass plants, so it’s best to keep those sprouts cut out so grass can grow. My observation is that once trees are removed, sunlight can reach the bank which allows the grasses to grow, especially with the ready supply of water! Include timeliness of livestock impact (to knock down the steep eroded banks) and grass will quickly cover those leveled areas as well. This all works together to hold soil, reduce erosion during what we call gully washers and slow the flow of water across the landscape. It’s a beautiful thing to watch the land heal.
A word of caution in all this! It will not work if you hire a bulldozer and push out trees – roots and all. This moves too much soil which may cause a lot of erosion and make the scarring even worse. The trees must be harvested leaving the roots in place. I find it more attractive to cut the stumps fairly level to the surface, plus the convenience of not having a stump to run into, but it probably doesn’t make any difference from a soil saving aspect.
The final argument to address is to define my use of the word ‘management.’ One way to manage is to bulldoze, another is to clear cut, but i’m referring to managing for regeneration. Sustaining my unmanaged timber is not smart – improving for the next generation (regeneration) is more respectful all around.
Horribly dry here and no chance of rain in the forecast! However, it’s perfect for disk ploughing and rota-tilling sod pastures so that they have ample opportunity for the grass that is turned up to die. On the four paddocks i’ve selected this is mostly toxic endophyte infected fescue and other weeds. Except for the 18 acres that i had tilled this spring and were involved in the annuals scheme, the remaining 32 acres is established pasture – pasture that has been grazed for at least 55 years. Tilling it up created quite a clatter on my rota-tiller. Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. There basically is no topsoil on my pastures except in the low spots along ditches. Sad – very sad.
Pulled into the first sod bound pasture land (Paddock 15) with the John Deere 4250 and the Howard Rotavator on 29 August 2017. Granted, i know most recommendations are to have this seeding done and in no later than the 20th of August, but this year just wasn’t going to allow it. And thankfully, i didn’t get in earlier; had i put these seeds in slightly moist soil, they may have germinated, sprouted, then dried up in this heat and dry weather. As it is, the seeds are just resting in that super dry soil waiting for just the right conditions to grow and thrive. The concern at planting late is that there won’t be good growth before freezing weather and a long winter.
(On the 1st of September, i mustered my bulls and hauled them (Allen and Dallas helped a lot), i spent too much time outside and became overcome with ragweed allergies. This kept me sleeping and recovering in the house for two days. Andy was able to take over for me so we kept on schedule.)
So to wrap it up with costs:
That’s a lot of money! and doesn’t even include the $60/acre spent earlier this year in lime spread. Hope it all pays off – i don’t want to ever have to do it again and with managed grazing, it should last many lifetimes.
So very odd that i’ve completely forgotten to finish this summary of my expensive permanent ley scheme which was completed the fall of 2017! So quick answer is that three years hence, there is a beautiful and diverse stand of valuable desirable mix of grass and legume species. Many of the original plants seeded are returning each year. I’ve been careful to allow them to mature and go to seed each year since to add to the seed bank. However, i still have not gained in cow days per acre in comparison to what i had before though the species are higher quality and likely allow better gains and performance in the cattle. Overall, i won’t do it again. I don’t like tillage and now that i’ve started total grazing, i’m hopeful i can improve forage while making money instead of spending money.
This beautiful burnet plant is such a valuable plant and three years later, it still comes on strong each spring. Always excited to see it!
Here’s an old article and our operation has changed a little bit, but we still very much appreciate and use management-intensive grazing (MIG). All our pastures are subdivided into 20 acres or less paddocks with hi-tensile electric wire. With the focus on managing the grazing, our animals and soil benefit from good health.
Allen & Tauna Powell Named 2004 “Grasslanders of the Year”
A Linn County farm family was named “grasslanders” at the Missouri Forage and Grassland Council annual meeting at the Lake of the Ozarks in November, 2004.
Allen and Tauna Powell, Laclede, Mo., were named Grasslanders of the Year. The Powells operate a 3000-acre farm stocked with 800 cows that use management-intensive grazing systems. Though the majority of their calves are marketed through traditional commodity channels, the last couple years, they have been finishing calves on grass only and marketing the beef locally and on the Internet.
They now serve on the advisory board for the research farm and have been instructors at the grazing schools.
The award was accepted by the family, which includes Jessica, 12; Dallas, 11; and Nathan, 8. The children are home schooled and attended the educational meetings at the MFGC conference after doing their regular homework.
Tauna said, “I thought raising pasture-finished beef was a crazy idea when I first heard it from Fred Martz (former superintendent of MU FSRC.) Now, 12 years later, we are doing it.”
MFGC is an educational association made up of graziers, educators, agency representatives and businesses. It provides support for state and regional grazing schools.
They have also initiated and support a grassland evaluation contest for high school students and travel scholarships for college students attending national meetings.
The Powells were nominated by Fred Martz, retired MU professor and grassland farmer at Columbia, Mo.
Management-intensive grazing improves production and health of pastures, increases livestock gains per acre, and reduces soil erosion. The system is based on dividing large pastures into smaller grazing paddocks. Livestock are moved every few days to give forage time to rest and regrow. Livestock always has fresh pasture to graze.
This was the first question posed to me after my speaking engagement with Farm Service Agency personnel in Kansas City on July 15. It was after the fact because it wasn’t pertinent to my purpose of being there and we had a limited time frame. Too bad on that, great group of people who truly seemed interested in the ‘boots on the ground’ aspect of farming and ranching.
Now, if you raise sheep and it is not difficult for you, then that is great. But my take on it is that they are far too time-consuming for my lifestyle choices and from a cost effective viewpoint. So bear with me. You can tell your story in your blog and I would like to read it!
Taking the emotion out and just putting economics to it:
Right now, the biggest economic advantage that sheep have over cattle or even goats, is the initial purchase price. Consider that a young bred cow costs $2500-$2800 compared to 5 bred ewes costing a total of $900-$1125. A cow will produce one calf ready to sell in about 10 months. Five ewes can potentially have 10 lambs to sell, but realistically, more like 7 lambs and they can be sold at about 7 months. Now, bearing in mind, that calves and lambs can be sold earlier or later, weaned and unweaned, etc, etc. So, I will try to compare the two the most fairly as possible, but market and weather conditions can often dictate a different scenario.
A 10 month old steer calf with no creep and unweaned, on average comes off momma at about 450 lbs, a heifer maybe 400 lbs. The steer, at auction at today’s prices, will bring $280/cwt or $1260 per head. The heifer about $1008 per head. Since the calf crop is typically 50% steers and 50% heifers, the average will be $1134.
A 50 lb lamb will bring about $1.75/lb and there is no differentiation between wethers and ewes. The average then would be $87.50/head. Better lambs should weigh 80 lbs at seven months, resulting in $980 total – but most likely, not all seven head will do that well.
Seven lambs to sell per year – $612.50-$980
One calf to sell per year – $1134
Labor – significantly more with sheep. They need nearly daily inspection since they tend towards getting caught in brush, fences, ditches, whatever, and need extracting. If not found at least in 24 hours, they will die. Even grown ewes can fall prey, resulting in not only the death of the ewe, but her unborn lambs or orphaning the ones she may already have. This means more work for you if you can figure out which ones are hers. You get to be mom for however long you keep them, including feeding them multiple times per day. The best investment for that task for me is a lamb milk bar with seven nipples.
Consider: 100 ewes and their lambs will consume about 3% of their body weight (similar to cows), so assuming ewes weighing 180 lbs times 3% equals about 6 lbs of grass per day or 600 for the entire flock. If your pasture offers 200 lbs of forage per inch of growth and you have 7 inches of growth and want to leave a 3 inch residual (to facilitate regrowth), then there is 4 inches times 200 lbs or 800 lbs forage on offer. Say you only want to move them every three days, then they should have at least 3 acres. To fence 3 acres in a square takes 1450 feet. Electric nettings are 164 feet long, so you are moving 9 nettings every three days. Don’t be fooled by the advertising that touts that it only takes 10 minutes per net. No way. I’m pretty darn fast at it now, but by the time, you pull the posts, fanfold them, roll them up, tie them, walk to the next location (or load them all up and drive them to the new location), unload (but first you have to untangle them from each other if you stacked them), walk them back out, then step them into the ground (if it’s not frozen or the ground isn’t hard that is). So, for each netting, taken down and reinstalled, you’ve logged at least 656 feet, not counting if you’ve had to pack it a long distance before setting up again. I’m going to give a general 20 minutes per net. This doesn’t really allow much for when you have to hammer the feet of the posts into the ground or unhooking from snags, removing sticks, and just general untangling.
Nine nets times 20 minutes is 3 hours! that’s every three days for only 100 sheep! Compare the equivalent of cows and calves moving everything three days – about 30 minutes and that’s if you have to find baby calves that were left behind. The difference becomes even more significant when one considers that i can shift 250 cows and calves in maybe 45 minutes. These times are taking into consideration strip grazing in winter and taking out hay as well as the easier moves in the spring, summer, and fall. However, ramping up the number of sheep would incur significantly more netting and thus considerable more time. A single strand semi-permanent hi-tensile electrified wire is cheap and easy to install and wiill easily contain cattle and once the fencing is installed, it requires very little time to shift mobs of 1000 or more! Interior paddock division fencing that will actually contain sheep is definitely doable, but is considerably more expensive in materials and labor to install and maintain.
So to compare on a larger scale with 5 ewes equalling 1 cow.
250 cows with 80% calf crop – $226,800 income per year. Shifting every three days or 122 times per year at 45 minutes each for a total of 91.5 hours per year.
1250 sheep with 140% lamb crop – $183,750 (60 lbs times $1.75/lb). Shifting every three days or 122 times per year (this is used for comparison only – realistically, winter time will require set stocking and unrolling hay. The netting spikes cannot be pushed into and pulled out of frozen ground). If 100 ewes needed three acres, then 1250 need 38 acres. Perimeter at 5146 ft divided by 164 ft is 32 nets times 20 minutes per net equals 10.7 hours per move times 122 shifts. Hours spent annual moving fence and/or taking out hay is 1305 hours.
If you have better forage and soil health, paddock sizes could be much smaller, thereby reducing the amount of acreage needed for each shift which would subsequently require less netting.
Sheep in north Missouri must have good fences and excellent guard animals to keep them alive. Coyotes, foxes, eagles, dogs, etc nab them with abandon to feed their young. Sheep also have accidents – but so do cattle – but sheep seem to have a better knack for it.
The death of a sheep is a far less loss of investment than a calf or cow.
Sheep and cattle facilities are different, but if planned in advance there is a good opportunity to use the same corrals.
Some people do get along without netting. From visiting with them, they raise hair sheep and/or use aluminum electric wire which delivers a more powerful shock than hi-tensile. Wool sheep often cannot feel the shock at all, especially when in full wool.
Wool sheep are not ideal for range grazing since the wool clip can be practically ruint if they find a patch of cockleburrs or other clinging seeds.
Though i did not consider it in my time allotment, sheep, ideally, need checking everyday – that fence can be blown over or something chase the sheep into the fence and they get caught up or they flatten it. Rain and flood can knock it over, too. Animals can be caught up in it that need rescuing or they die and the rest will all get out and scatter! If you have 1000 acres and 2 sheep, in five minutes they’ll be at the far corners and separated. When the Scriptures talk about sheep going astray – there is the proof of it!
In my case, i have a 35 minute drive to my farm. Sheep are not practical at all if they are so far away that they cannot be checked on easily. With cattle, unless during calving season or unseasonably hot or cold weather, they don’t need attention anymore than once every three days or so. This greatly reduces my time spent on the road.
Sheep can be used to better clear brush and prepare pastures for renovation and improvement as long as their grazing is strictly controlled. Sheep get out a lot! Perhaps not out of the perimeter fence, but they, like all livestock, must stay within their alloted grazing or they’ll destroy a pasture. If you have beautiful, level pastures with no ditches, draws, dips, or washouts, yet shade in nearly all paddocks (sheep sunburn and get very hot in the summer), you may have an ideal situation for raising sheep.
The biggest advantage sheep have over cattle at least in today’s marketplace is the initial investment. And it is substantial. Taking our above example:
250 bred cow purchase@ $2500 is $625,000 (Requires 6 bulls for breeding – $5000 each or $30,000)
1250 bred ewes purchase $281,250 (Requires 25 rams for breeding – $500 each or $12,500)
However, nets cost $120 each and used regularly MIGHT last 2 years. And as shown the labor is much greater.
So there are advantages and disadvantages. To me, the market dictates raising cattle, because of the reduced cost of infrastructure and reduced labor. However, if one had 1250 ewes, in my opinion, the infrasture needs to be in place to eliminate the labor of netting. This is lots of posts and woven wire.
So, this all begs the question, ‘why did i purchase sheep in the first place?’ To be sure, my plan was that the sheep would basically live with and graze with the cattle and shift with them. However, this never came about since they would not be contained by the 3 wire hi-tensile electrified fencing I installed for this purpose. They learnt to jump through the two top wires, so that even though the wires were ‘hot’ the sheep were not shocked since they weren’t touching the ground as they jumped through. I don’t know if they learnt this by accident or watched the dogs do it. Plus any dip in the ground would provide a large hole for them to duck under. It honestly, is impossible, from a practical standpoint to make them stay within the enclosure. So, until i started containing them with the electric netting, they became regular fodder for predators despite guard dogs simply because they scatter like, –well, sheep. From then on, i have two groups of animals to shift, with the sheep requiring far too much time for what they were worth.
So, the sheep will be sold over the next couple of months to free up time for family matters, to improve my sanity, and give my poor old bones a needed rest.
There are other major expenses involved to have such a scheme. Not the least of which is needing about 1000 acres, which at current prices in north central Missouri is about $2800 to $3400 per acre. (IF you can find it for sale) Some people are very fortunate to find pasture to rent, but consider whether or not you’d want to make $150 per acre in infrastructure on someone else’s property. You’d need a lifetime lease to justify that and they can still sell the land and you’d be out. Plus the owner may not be agreeable to crisscrossing his or her property with fencing. Remember, too, the animals have health issues including treating for disease (albeit very seldom), vaccinations, castrating, as well as marketing and trucking expenses.