Management

This summer each of our Executive Link boards met on one of the board member’s ranches. This has helped boards get a deeper understanding of one another’s situation and I think it has increased the effectiveness of the boards. With the summer about over and the final board meetings completed, I spoke to my colleague, Allan Crockett, about the effectiveness of the sessions he’d facilitated. Allan felt that the meetings had been very effective. Then he shared this insight, “Everything is a people issue.”

He wasn’t just talking about people having inadequate skills, problems with time management, or communication issues, although those can all be problems. He was talking about prices, costs, debt, weather, and every other issue you can think of. His point was that it isn’t these challenges that determine our success or failure. It is what we do about these challenges that makes the difference.

Having an animal that’s adapted to the environment is a critical component of building a profitable livestock business and genetics play an important role in determining an animal’s fitness. But there are even more important considerations.

John Marble has an eye for good cattle. Of course what John calls “good” might make traditional ranchers scratch their heads. But John isn’t concerned with pedigrees. The only papers he wants to see are the green ones with President’s pictures that each animal he buys returns.

John and I spent an enjoyable day together last week hiking to a cascade lake and talking about land, life and livestock. John and his wife Chris ranch in the Willamette Valley of western Oregon. It’s in an environment where land is expensive and large scale leases are hard to come by. That makes increasing turnover by traditional means difficult. It also means that it is even more important to keep overhead costs low and the margin per unit high. John’s highest margins come from buying undervalued cattle and adding value. A lot of the animals he buys come from the local sale barn.

John told me, “Most people see a sale yard as a cesspool of disease-ridden and defective cattle, unless of course they happen to be selling their own cattle there that day.” One local producer recently asked John, “How can you stand sitting in the sale barn and buying those cattle.

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.