A few weeks ago I visited with the owner and manager of a high-desert ranch to explore ways to improve ecological processes and the overall productivity and profitability of the place. We threw down some plot frames and estimated cover. We agreed that 90% of the range was bare soil. When I asked how they thought the place should be managed they talked about “impacting” the soil, “hitting” the pasture, “attacking” the weeds and grazing the grass down. It was like they were talking about doing battle with an enemy. It reminded me of something I heard Bud Williams say. He said, “Cattlemen love their cattle and hate their grass.”
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A Ranching For Profit School alumnus sent me a paper published by the Society for Range Management on calculating the optimum stocking rate. The authors crunched 14 variables through 1o equations to reach the conclusion that the optimum stocking rate is somewhere between a low rate that maximizes per head performance and a higher rate that maximizes production per acre. Nowhere in the variables or formulas did they account for carrying capacity, the value of leaving cover, the influence of stockmanship and forage quality on animal performance, or many other things that impact stocking rate and animal performance. The authors acknowledge that they ignored “elements that may be important.”
That may be important?!? How can you have a credible conversation about stocking rate without mentioning carrying capacity? How can you have an intelligent discussion about animal performance without addressing stockmanship or forage quality?
Animal performance is not just a matter of the quantity of forage available in a paddock, it is also an issue of forage quality.
A college student working on a class project wrote to me asking, “Could you please write down the top five challenges that you have in ranching? It could be problems with horses, cows, equipment, fences, etc.” I explained to him that I don’t have a ranch or own any cows. However, I have had the good fortune of working with thousands of Ranching For Profit School alumni in the classroom, in their homes and in their pastures. With that in mind, I listed the top five challenges I see in ranching. Before reading my five please take a moment and list your five. I’d enjoy seeing them posted on the blog.