Grass Management

Have you ever noticed that when you see, taste or smell something awful, that you want others to share in the experience? Get a whiff of a skunk or a rotting carcass and you are likely to say, “PU! Smell that!” A friend of mine found the written equivalent of a skunk.

I received this email from a young rancher who wanted to increase cattle numbers but was worried about drought:

Dear Dave,

I’ve got an efficient group of cows and my overheads are reasonably low. My problem is that I need to increase my numbers. I am sure I could run more animals right now but I am worried that in a dry year I won’t have enough pasture and would have to destock. Looking for help and ideas to see what my options are.


Doubt About Drought

One of the questions I often get at workshops is, “How many of the people who go to the Ranching For Profit School are actually doing it?” It’s a reasonable question, but it depends on what it is.

An email I received explained,

I have set up my ranch with money from other businesses. I watched one too many John Wayne movies, admittedly – but I am also a business man. We are not adding any value to our hay by putting it through a cow. Pasture rents are $1.10 per pair per day. At current cattle prices I’m having trouble answering the question “Why do I own a cow?” especially when I consider the opportunity cost of 500+ cows!

My response:

Allan Nation coined the phrase grass farmer to drive home the point that the real business of ranching is forage production. Livestock are simply the means through which we harvest the real crop. But grass is still secondary to animals in most producers’ minds. We are still cattlemen and cowboys before we are grass farmers. If the grass is secondary, where does that leave the soil?

When Pigs Fly

An Executive Link member from Nebraska sent me an email that could turn the grazing world upside down. He wrote to say that he’d crunched the numbers and his figures showed that feeding hay was less expensive than leasing pasture. He concluded that it was more profitable for him to feed his own cattle hay in the feed lot and bring in outside cattle to custom graze on his pastures than it was to graze his cattle on his ranch.

Take half – leave half. It is probably the most common advice you’ll hear regarding grazing utilization. In my opinion it is bad advice. It was probably the brainchild of someone looking for a one-size-fits-all, easy-to-remember recipe.

When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. This is the phrase that kept coming to my mind as I looked at range condition on a ranch recently, except the tool wasn’t a hammer … it was a hoof. The problems included overgrazing, bare soil and plants in phase 1 and 3 side by side. The land had been hammered, but none of these problems looked like nails to me. Even so, at each site we’d visit, the host of the tour said he wanted to hit the range with more hooves. In my opinion, that’s the last thing his pastures needed.

I once heard Bud Williams say, “Ranchers love their cows and hate their grass.” Bud thought they had it backwards. They should love their grass and hate their cattle.