Tag Archives: ranching

Operational Considerations

Change is not always good – certainly i’ve made more than my share of changes that have turned out badly and/or expensively. But i’ve learnt, tried, and found what i do NOT want to do.

When my children were little and had their own bits to do, i planned and built with their little bodies in mind. In other words, all the equipment and chores had to be designed so that a child can do it and be successful without overcoming them with too much work. I find that the older i get the more i need to lean back into that mindset for myself!! The adage of work smarter, not harder is becoming more important – in reality, it’s always the right thing. As David Pratt reminds me “you can be efficiently doing the wrong thing.” The key is to be effective. Is what i’m doing important to my goals – what are my goals? Am i aiming for the right target?

I’ve learnt from many grazing teachers (or as they are often referred to ‘gurus’), my experience and knowledge has greatly increased as i implemented their suggestions and techniques. But, when “Total Grazing” caught my attention, I was intrigued enough to explore this new thought process. My farming/ranching operation is now poised to become more fun and more profitable and I’m excited again about my career/lifestyle choice ingrained in my DNA and encouraged by my Grandpa Falconer on whose land (now mine) my cattle graze.

Some general thoughts, considerations, ideas, suggestions, and changes:

  1. Forage testing not needed – observe your cows and their manure. Of course, i had just tested 3 spots of forage and spent $150 in testing and shipping (not counting labor -because farmers don’t do that but should). When i sent the results to Jaime Elizondo, who has developed the pillars of Real Wealth Ranching, he advised me to observe the manure as to whether or not the cows need supplemental protein on mature forages. I was surely wanting him to tell me which of the protein results numbers generated is the one i choose to determine the need for protein (all the numbers were at the 8% threshold). Funnily, he would NOT answer that question. He patiently, yet persistently, circled back to “observe the manure”. So, that is what i will do – and i will no longer waste money on forage sampling.
  2. Consider weaning all spring born calves before December then selling or feeding them through winter. I’m not keen on feeding calves through winter or anytime for that matter, however, i will consider weaning then selling the steers and any heifers i won’t keep for replacements. I would then have far fewer animals to feed. I’m not set up to feed calves, so that will take some planning. Pulling the calves off earlier than March (my traditional weaning time) will give the cows a much longer time to recover as well as not have the stress of nursing the big calves in addition to preparing to calve in April.
  3. It would be nice to get away from purchasing high protein tubs – handling them is doable by myself despite them weighing 200 lbs each. I simply slide them out of the bed of my pickup into the bed of my John Deere Gator, then in the pasture, i pull the tub out onto the ground. I can haul 2 tubs at once this way. I’ve also hauled 6 to the pasture in the back of my pickup, but this is tricky in winter because of bad roads and muddy or snowy/icy fields.
  4. A better protein supplement is good quality alfalfa or other high protein legume or grass hay. I’m not sure how i can implement this with the equipment i have. However, it could be that weaning the calves before December will eliminate any protein supplementation for the cows.
  5. Given the distance from my house to the farm, i know i cannot implement the everyday 4x a day moves. However, i can do this more often if i don’t have the expense of other labor intensive chores. Wintertime, however, has a different challenge in that sometimes road conditions won’t allow me to get there for up to a week or rarely even longer!
  6. This year (2021), i am very low on cows numbers because i sold so many last year to avoid feeding any hay – thankfully, i did so because i will have to start feeding hay had i not done so – still going to be close. So, what to do to increase numbers for the upcoming grazing season? This is a question i am researching and deciding – what do i like to do? Stockers? Heifers? Steers? Cow/calf pairs? There are tools to help with the financial decisions but the quality of life decision is mine.
  7. To reclaim the 120 acre Bowyer farm, i’ve been advised by two friends, Greg Judy, regenerative rancher (and wife, Jan, on Green Pastures Farm) in Clark, Missouri, USA and José Manuel Gortázar, Savory holistic instructor teaching in Coyhaique, Chile on the farm he and his wife, Elizabeth, own and operate – Fundo Panguilemu not to worry with planting anything on the soil which has been organically soybeaned for 4 years. It is likely there is plenty of seed still in the soil which will come back with proper grazing management. I do know from observation, that the one year the farmer didn’t not plant soybeans it grew massive (like 6 feet tall!) foxtail and cocklebur. Not good choices, but very high quality forage actually if grazed at the right time. I’ve considered dragging a no-till drill up there and putting in oats as a suppressive, but weighing the cost and time to do so is not fun. I don’t like to drive a tractor and machinery plus our 15 foot drill does not shift to an inline pull, so it’s kind of dangerous to get it up to my farm on the long narrow and hilly roads. I think we are selling our no-till drill this year anyway. Running machinery is not a high priority for us and there are only so many hours in the day.

Every year, I make changes to my annual ‘itinerary’ and this one is no different. Time to type up a new plan.

Cheers!

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.

img_7249
Scooping out a water tank that filled with mud

img_7250

img_7462
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.

img_7387
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.

Cheers!

tauna

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

    Print       Email

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

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.

Parity? Not a chance in Farming

It’s not hard to understand why most young people have no interest in farming as a career.  Low wages, working conditions can be brutal at times (weather related or dangerous), and very low return on investment coupled with high financial risk.  Not a good combination.  The average age of principle operators continues to rise and is now over 58 years old – a time when many in other sectors are planning retirement.  However, the young people who are starting up do seem to work smarter and not harder with the result being a more balanced family/work lifestyle.  Also, mechanisation and better ranching principles continue to make the work more pleasant and give farmers/ranchers the opportunity to expand without working harder or longer hours.  There is hope that agriculture will continue in the US, just with fewer operators and sadly, still supported with off farm income.  There is a joke amongst farmers and ranchers that when asked what they’d do if they won a million dollars, the answer is ‘farm until it’s gone.’

1966

Land cost per acre:  $93/acre  (my Bowyer Place)

Cow Prices:  $20/cwt  (20 cents per pound)

Fed Steer Price:  $25/cwt  (25 cents per pound)

Wages per hour:  $1.25 (minimum wage)

Fuel:  .32/gallon

2018

Land cost per acre:  $2800/acre (similar land sales in Linn County, MO)

Cow Prices:  $63/cwt  (63 cents per pound)

Fed Steer Price:  $115/cwt  ($1.15 per pound)

Wages per hour:  $7.25 (minimum wage)

Fuel: $2.45/gallon

CPI Inflation Calculator to compare:

Land – $93 in 1966 is the same as $725 in 2018 dollars

Cow Prices:  $0.20/lb  in 1966 is the same as $1.56/lb in 2018 dollars

Fed Steers:  $0.25/lb in 1966 is the same as $1.95/lb in 2018 dollars

Wages per hour:  $1.25/hr in 1966 is the same as $9.74/hr in 2018 dollars

Fuel: $0.32/gallon in 1966 is the same as $2.49/gallon in 2018