Category: Business

Woe is Me – By Kit Pharo

I skim through many beef publications on a daily basis.   Within the last two weeks, I have read the following statements in various online and printed publications.

  • The average age of farmers and ranchers in America has been increasing drastically over the past 30 years.
  • From 2002 to 2015, the cost to produce a weaned calf more than doubled from $400 to $875 per cow.
  • The average net farm/ranch income was negative for 2018.
  • Farm bankruptcies in some states were up 60% in 2018.
  • Calf losses this spring were well above average because of snow, cold and wind.
  • The USDA reported that since 2013 there has been more than a 50% reduction in net farm income.
  • Total farm income decreased $9.1 billion in 2018.
  • Total farm debt increased $410 billion in 2018.
  • Delayed corn planting will have a negative effect on feeder cattle prices.
  • Net income has been dropping due to circumstances out of farmers’ and ranchers’ control – dropping commodity prices, increasing input costs, machinery purchase costs and repairs and inclement weather.

These statements don’t paint a pretty picture, do they?   They leave little room for hope – especially for those who are struggling to make a decent living in the cow-calf business.   It’s easy to understand why some producers are throwing their hands up in despair, thinking, “Woe is me.   What can I do?”   Most are doing nothing – which just makes matters worse.

I believe all but one of the above statements are true.   The last statement, however, is FALSE!   It will make producers feel a little better about the situation they are in – but it will discourage them from taking any appropriate action.   Truth be known, very little is totally out of our control.   We just like to think things are out of our control because we’re afraid to think or look outside the box (paradigm) we have put ourselves in.

At the risk of upsetting more subscribers, I am going to do my best to challenge you to look and to think outside the box you have put yourself in.   We have all put ourselves in a box of some sort.   Our actions and our success are limited by the box we have put ourselves in.   Thinking outside your box will probably go against conventional thinking – but I want you to understand that it is possible to create a very profitable, enjoyable and sustainable business.   I want you to understand that it is possible to create a very bright and prosperous future for the next generation.

In last week’s “The Next Generation” article, I asked, “What do you need to do to adapt to the changes that are taking place in the cow-calf business?”   I went on to say, “If you have been paying attention, you already know the answer to that question.   The real question is… do you have enough courage to break away from the status quo, herd-mentality way of thinking so you can make the right decisions?”   Herein lies the problem for most people.

Let me begin by admitting we have no control over the weather.   However, we do have the ability to plan for most weather-related events and situations.   With a good grazing system and a good drought plan, we can decide when to turn our cows into cash to conserve our grass.   As Bud Williams once said, “You will never go broke having too much money or too much grass – but going broke is easy if you have too many cattle at the wrong time.”   We have the ability to take control of these situations.

Hundreds of cow-calf producers lose an inordinate number of calves every year while calving.   To add insult to injury, these same producers work harder than anyone else trying to save those calves.   Apparently, they do not realize they have control of when they turn their bulls out.   There are very few environments in which winter calving makes sense.   Why do wild ruminates wait until May to have their babies?   Why are all calves born with a summer hair coat?   There is nothing more enjoyable and profitable than calving on green grass.

I am also willing to admit we have very little control over the markets and the prices we receive.   The only way to take control of the prices you receive is to get out of the commodity business and sell a product like grass-finished beef directly to the consumer.   Several PCC customers have been very successful at doing this.

Farmers and ranchers cannot do much about commodity prices.   Most will whine and complain – but that does no good.   Many will blame others for their problems – but that does no good.   So, what can you do?   If what you are doing now is not working, you need to do something different.   This is as obvious as the nose on your face – but most people will not change a thing until they are forced to.   By that time, it will be too late for many.

PROFIT  =  (Production  x  Market Value)  –  Expenses

Since we have no control over the markets, we need to focus our attention on increasing production and/or decreasing expenses.   When we talk about increasing production, we are referring to production per acre – NOTper animal.   Focusing on production per animal (bragging rights) will actually decrease production and profit per acre.   The status quo beef industry has been focused on the wrong thing for the last 50 years.

I know several producers who have increased pounds and profit per acre by 50 to well over 200 percent.   That’s HUGE!   These producers have implemented proper grazing management to make the most of every ray of sunshine and drop of rain that falls on the land they control.   They also produce smaller, more efficient cows that fit their environment – instead of artificially changing the environment to fit their cows.   This allows them to increase stocking rate and production per acre.   If they can do it, why can’t you?

The average cost of producing a calf has more than doubled in the last 20 years.   That makes it very difficult for most producers to make a decent living.   In contrast, most long-time PCC customers have a cost of production that is 40 to 50 percent less than the national average.   That’s an advantage of $350 to $450 per calf!   If they can do it, why can’t you?   The easiest money you will ever make is the money you don’t spend.

The reason the average age of cow-calf producers has increased so rapidly over the last 30 years is because the next generation, for the most part, is not coming back to the farm or ranch.   The reason the next generation is not coming back is because very few cow-calf operations are profitable, enjoyable and sustainable.   The reason very few cow-calf operations are profitable, enjoyable and sustainable is because most producers are unwilling to make the necessary changes in their operation.   It is easier to say, “Woe is me,” than to think outside the box they have put themselves in.   We encourage you to choose a different route.   You can do it – and we can help!

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“You are responsible for your own happiness and success.”   ~ Harvey Mackay

Marketing the Ranch

Marketing – The process of creating excitement about your product/service.
Sales – The process of actually selling your product/service.

Sales of the product on the Ranch – You have that figured out. Sales barns, video, and internet, they all get the job done very well with the largest number of potential buyers.

But – Marketing, that has been left up to the barns/video/internet sales facilitators. And how do they go about doing that. – The Sale Bill. The consignment list they post in publications and websites.

That’s IT!!!!!!

Why should you take an interest in “Marketing your Livestock”
Picture this – If there are 2 more bidders at the sale to BID on your livestock. 50,000 lbs at $1.10 = $55,000.
With 2 more bidders you could get say .05 +/- cents more?
50,000 lbs at $1.15 = $57,500.
$2500 More….

What can you do to “Market your Livestock”?
Website – $500 a year.
Print Media – $500 a year.
Social Media – $100 a year.

  • Take lots of pictures
  • Write down what you do.
  • Write down your genetics
  • Ad pictures to everything.

The more visual you are the more your pictures will sell your Calves.

Build upon the reputation that you already have.
By Investing $1.00 in your Marketing – You can get $2.00 back.

I can HELP – call 307.331.0357

If One Can Do It…

If One Can Do It…

By Kit Pharo

If I had a nickel for every time my long-time friend and mentor Chip Hines has said, “If one can do it, they all should be able to do it,” I would have a truckload of nickels.   In the 30+ years that I have known Chip, he has had a profound effect on me, on Pharo Cattle Company and on the entire beef industry.

Although Chip has an excellent understanding of the minute details of beef production, he likes to keep everything as simple as possible.   Nature has always been Chip’s example and teacher.   He thinks cows should be able to produce and reproduce without any outside inputs.   If one can do it, they all should be able to do it.

In the mid-1990s… we were giving our cows a protein supplement three times a week for 30 days prior to calving.   We did this because that is what we thought we had to do with cows grazing short, dormant grass all winter.   I remember a cow (Angel 382) who wouldn’t even look up when we came to feed the range cubes.   She continued to graze – even though all of the other cows were frantically running to the pickup.

This cow reminded me of what Chip had told me many times, “If one can do it, they all should be able to do it.”   I decided to eliminate all protein supplementation.   I remember one university expert advising me against taking such drastic actions.   He said, “We both know the protein level of your winter grass is very low.   According to the book, you need to supplement some protein.”   I nodded my head, but ignored his advice… and I got away with it.

Do you know why I was able to ignore his advice and get away with it?   I got away with it because not one of my cows had read the book the university guy was referring to.   They didn’t know any better.   Who wrote the book anyway?

I’m sure some cows eventually fell out of our herd after we discontinued providing a protein supplement.   Most of the cows, however, were not affected.   This is how you make genetic improvement and progress.   If you never take away inputs, you will never know which cows can survive without inputs.   Over the years, we have essentially eliminated all outside inputs with the exception of salt and mineral.   I know a few PCC customers who have eliminated mineral supplementation.

Recently, I have taken Chip’s “If one can do it…” statement to a different level.   I have thought about how successful and profitable most PCC customers are in comparison to their neighbors.

What’s the difference between PCC customers and their neighbors?   The primary difference is that PCC customers are focused on increasing production per acre, while their neighbors continue to be focused on increasing production per animal.   There is a BIG difference!   If some cow-calf producers can do it, others should be able to do it.

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“The men who succeed are the efficient few.   They are the few who have the ambition and the will power to develop themselves.”   ~ Robert Burton (1577 – 1640)

4 Points For Successful Outsourcing – A 5 Minute Mind Makeover

I’ve outsourced a LOT of copywriting jobs to my ace resource John Fancher.John is wicked good and he channels my inner voice like a pro. He’s doing a great job. But I can’t tell you how long I resisted that. And I can’t tell you how much time – and not just time, quality, optimum time of my day time – that I’ve freed for myself by forcing that evolution. Everyone in Planet Perry benefits.

Why did I resist that? Probably mostly cuz so many people said “Dang Perry you’re such a talented copywriter” that it had become my identity.

Dude, your job is NEVER your identity. Yeah, I know in English we say “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and your five year old says, “I want to be a policeman. I want to be a fireman.” But that is actually wrong. The guy who wears a uniform is not a policeman. He is a man whose job is police work. The fireman is not, at the identity level, a fireman.He is a human being who earns his bread by fighting fires.

Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset, points out that when your kid gets an “A” on the test and you say “Krista you are really smart” then “really smart” becomes a part of her identity and now she thinks she has to live up to that all the time and if she doesn’t, she is a failure. And it actually becomes de-motivatingbecause smart is not what she is it is a gift that she has.

When your job becomes your identity you become unhealthily attached to it and you unwittingly build a prison for yourself. That’s why one of your top jobs in life is knowing thyself and getting clearer and clearer about the difference between who you are and what gifts you possess.

For most entrepreneurs, this means your natural role is STARTER NOT FINISHER. You don’t need to finish anythingyou start. You just need to make sure that others successfully finish it. Yeah, I know – that sounds a lot easier than it really is. Here’s a tool I picked up from Rob Berkeley and his Entrepreneur To CEO Mastermind with Victor Cheng – the Circle of Commitment:

1. Request – You tell someone what you want

2. Negotiation – You discuss what they can actually deliver, until you reach agreement

3. Performance – They do what they said they would do

4. Acceptance – You communicate to them that they did indeed do what they promised to do. If they did not do it, you go back to #1, #2 or #3 as necessary until they finish in an acceptable way.

Those of us with “High Quick Start, Low Follow Through” tendencies tend to rush through the Request and Negotiation part, not making it clear exactly what we want. I know I often completely skip the Acceptance part and never give appropriate feedback.

That’s why “outsourcing” can be such a mess.

If you start a project by defining “What feedback is going to come back to me? And what feedback am I going to give to others once the project is successfully completed?”, then you are set up for success. This is the practical version of Stephen Covey’s “Begin With The End In Mind.”

Replacing the Monkey –

By Kit Pharo

The PCC Discussion Group recently had a very interesting discussion that tied in very well with the “Woe is Me” article in last week’s PCC Update.   While most people know what they should do, very few actually follow through.   Why is that?   What prevents most people from making the changes they know they should make?  I will share a few high points from this discussion.

The discussion thread was started by Jim Gerrish, who is a world-renown grazing expert.   Jim discussed two clients he had worked with.   He helped one client double his carrying capacity and reduce hay feeding by 60% in just three years.   Since the infrastructure required to do this cost $36 per acre, this client essentially purchased another 8000-acre ranch for $36 per acre.   Rangeland in that area is currently selling for $1000 per acre.   That was a no-brainer.

Jim worked with another client who had a 30,000-acre ranch.   Jim said, “I am confident we can double the carrying capacity on this ranch similar to what we did on the other project.   Spread across the 30,000 acres, that is a stock water and fence infrastructure cost of less than $40 per acre.”   He went on to say, “That is the equivalent of buying another 30,000-acre ranch without closing costs, additional taxes, or all the other associated overheads for less than $40 per acre when the prevailing land cost in that area for similar rangeland is about $800 per acre.”   Although the client understood the possibilities, he decided not to go forward with the project.

Doug Ferguson, who lives in Nebraska and is a very active and outside-the-box contributor to the PCC Discussion Group, responded by saying, “Jim, I have spent several years studying the subconscious mind and paradigms – and how they affect our results.   I’ll try to condense what I have learned.”

Doug went on to say, “What you ran into with the second rancher is called the Terror Barrier.   He probably understood it, and gets it.   So, what is stopping him?   His old paradigm.   The old paradigm is what keeps us from doing what we know we should do.

“The second rancher has the knowledge and you gave him a simple plan to follow.   But then what I call the Monkey Mind kicks in.   The monkey represents the old paradigm – and that monkey talks a lot.   He’s going to put up one hell of a fight because he doesn’t want to be replaced by a different monkey.

“So, the monkey says things like: That’s a lot of money.   How are you going to pay that off?   What if there is a drought in a couple years and you have to destock?   What are you going to do then?   People will laugh at you because you spent all this money to increase stocking rate and you ended up destocking.   You’ll never be able to show your face in public again.

“The monkey may go a different route.   Fear of success: What if this works?   If your stocking rate doubles, where are you going to get the stock?   Can you afford to buy that many cows?   That’s a big risk putting all those dollars out there.”

Doug concluded this part of his discourse by saying, “The second producer was on board and fired up right until the monkey started talking.   Then he gets scared, hits the Terror Barrier and goes right back to his old paradigm – with results he is comfortable with.

“Paradigms are a multitude of habits.   Habits are hard to change.   That reminds me of a great quote that ties in with what Kit is always preaching, ‘In times of change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists’”

It is not easy to replace the old monkey.   It is a bit scary and a lot uncomfortable.   Nevertheless, monkeys must be replaced every now and then if we want to achieve true happiness and success.

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen.”   ~ Horace Mann

“The cure for boredom is curiosity.   There is no cure for curiosity.”   ~ Ellen Parr

 

Rules of Thumb for Ranching

Rules of Thumb for Ranching
Compiled by Steve Moreland, March 23, 2017

This subject has come up on Ranch Talk on the Ranchers.net Bull Session. Here are a few axioms that have been passed on through the years. Others might find them to be of interest.

A theory I heard just lately is that the cost of five months of rented summer pasture should be equal to a third of what a steer calf is worth at weaning time. If the calf is worth $900, a third of that would be $300. $300 divided by five months would be $60 per month.

Always keep your best heifer calves.

Don’t keep kicking a dead horse. If something isn’t working, kick the habit.

Have a rigid culling program on cows in the herd. If you have to give them extra attention to get a calf sucking, graft the calf onto a better young cow and say adios’ to the problem cow.

Good nutrition trumps high-falutin’ genetics.

Never sell hay, especially if there is any chance you might come up short for your own cattle before green grass.

Uniformity helps to achieve premium prices.

If you are sitting in a pickup waiting for a cow to have her calf, park sideways to the cow and try to act nonchalantly disinterested. If the pickup is facing the distraught cow, she regards the headlights as “eyes” staring at her.

My dad and other neighbors always used to say that you should half your hay left by the first of March. Of course in those days it was a lot harder to haul in stacked hay if you ran short.

An hour in the morning is worth two in the afternoon.

Glamour tends to dissolve in sweat.

One old neighbor that my dad worked for as a young man would say each evening before supper, “Well, we didn’t get much done today but we’ll give ‘er hell tomorrow.”

It’s easy to cut a big strap if you’re using someone else’s leather.

If the sun is shining, take along a coat. If it’s cloudy do what you want.

The only way to move cattle fast is to move them slow.

It’s amazing how dumb a cow can be. What’s more amazing is how many cowboys can’t outsmart a dumb old cow.

A good cowboy on a poor horse can get a lot more done that can a poor cowboy on a real good horse.

A boy is all boy; two boys are half a boy; three boys are no boys at all.

The two most critical weeks of each year for grass and hay production are the two middle weeks of May. If you can get some rain and sunshine and no late freezes during that time period, the rest of the summer usually goes quite well.

An extra inch of rain takes the place of a lot of management.

Substance over style.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Always keep your cattle saleable. If cattle in good condition are worth a premium if they are offered for sale, they are worth that same premium if you own them. If you have to sell them for some reason, they will command a good price.

Extra feed on hand, whether it be left-over grass in a pasture or year-old hay, is always an asset and not a liability. It is just as good as money in the bank, and you don’t have to pay income tax on it.

You can’t starve a profit out of a cow.

The best insurance is a fat cow going into the winter.

Fat is a pretty color.

A good horse is never a bad color.

It is easier to pull a chain than to push one. Often times the same principle applies in moving cattle. A feed pickup in the lead can save a lot of whooping and hollering and exasperation at the rear of the herd. If a bunch of cattle won’t cross a bridge, try stringing out a little cake in front of the ones in the lead.

If a bunch of cow/calf pairs won’t cross a barrier such as a bridge or slippery ice, rope a calf around its neck. When it bellers, its mother will come and bring many of her bovine buddies with her. Pull the calf across the barrier, and the rest will follow.

Portable corral panels are very handy. Often times a panel or two in a strategic place can make cattle sorting a whole lot easier.

An ounce of rain is worth much more than a pound of hail.

A job well done is a self-portrait of the one who did it.

A sign in an implement dealer’s store that holds merit: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on our part.”
The best cow dog in Cherry County resides on our ranch. He stays in the house yard digging up petunias while we work cattle.

Very often a dog that shows up at a cattle working screws things up as much as if three hard-working cow hands had not come at all.

Chinks look cool, but if the wrestler on a calf’s head is wearing them, the fringe tends to be very much in the way of the workers who are vaccinating, installing ear tags, ear marking, implanting or dehorning.

If you think a horse might buck and give trouble, try leaving the spurs off of your boots. Often times, the extra inadvertent poking that a horse gets from a rider trying to stay on, only further antagonizes the horse and makes them buck harder.

A brand put on properly gives extra insurance that it will be easily seen for the rest of the bovine’s time on your ranch. This is your stamp of ownership, so apply it the best you can—not too deep but not too lightly. A brand that does not blotch is an extra bonus.

DISCLAIMER: All of these rules of thumb have served well through the years except for 2016. It seems like last year none of these rules worked. But this has always been a “next year country,” and I have high hopes for 2017 and beyond.

Feel free to add to the list, or to debunk some of my theories.
Some of these ideas vary greatly from those of others. I am not trying to offend anyone, but only offering food for thought.

Twelve Steps to Amazing Grazing – Part 1

By   /  May 13, 2019  /

This article comes to us from Matt Poore and Johnny Rogers. Amazing Grazing, in addition to being something we all aspire to, is state-wide, pasture-based livestock educational initiative of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, coordinated by Matt and Johnny coordinate.

These steps aren’t just 1-2-3 and you’re done. We’ve all started down this road, and these are some ideas to help us keep going.

One day last winter as we drove to Roanoke  for the American Forage and Grasslands Council Annual Conference we talked at length about why more people don’t adopt better grazing management techniques. We realized it might be because we have been practicing Adaptive Grazing Management for so long we forget how we got started.  Advanced graziers sometimes turn off novices because what seems obvious to the experienced is a brand new concept to folks just getting started.  It is clear, however, that more and more farmers are interested in starting the pursuit of “Amazing Grazing”.  We get a lot of questions about how to get from a traditionally managed farm to a place where you can see “Amazing Grazing” in action. It doesn’t happen quickly, but changing your management approach can turn a system around and begin the soil health building process.  Here is a twelve step plan that can help you along the journey.

Step 1.  Decide you are ready to become a critical thinker and to manage your farm using ecological principles.

Most of us have grown up with a production system that uses a lot of hay and other purchased feeds, is based on continuous or very lax rotational grazing, and that has a focus on a single part of the system, the animal.  We have been taught a lot about nutrition, reproduction and genetics, as well as showing animals, but relatively little about managing the complex and dynamic pasture ecosystem. When we get in a drought we hold onto the animals, buy more hay, and allow the pastures to get overgrazed.

The truth is that if you spend a lot of time feeding hay in winter, making hay in summer, and worrying about running out of grass during droughts, there is a better way.  Your farm is an ecosystem that includes you, the animals, the forages, the soil, and the water cycle and a million other connections.  Once you see it as one system, you have a chance to observe and then guide the system in a direction that benefits your production and personal goals.

Do you want to shorten the hay feeding season, grow more forage with less inputs, and improve your lifestyle?  All that is possible, but Adaptive Grazing Management can only work if you admit you don’t understand your system but are willing to spend the time and energy trying to figure it out.  The truth is no one really understands these systems, but there are many of us that have decided to devote a lifetime to observing all parts of the system, making management decisions, critically evaluating results, and adapting our management to improve those outcomes.

One key thing to be aware of is that Adaptive Grazing Management means you will spend more time on your feet and less time on equipment.  While new remote sensing technologies are being developed, there is no substitute for walking pasture, feeling it under your feet, and spending time putting up polywire and closely observing your cows. The exercise you get from this activity is well balanced and low impact, and can really improve your health and well-being.

Step 2.  Surround yourself with like-minded graziers.

After you decide to embark on this endless journey to Amazing Grazing, you need to have a support network. We need to keep our current friends, but understand there will be peer pressure to go back to the old ways of doing things.  Obviously it is mentally easier to turn on a tractor, spear a bale of hay and deliver it to a hay ring, than to have cows strip grazing behind a single strand of polywire. You may become known among your peers as “that loco guy that spends all winter moving that silly little string”.

The best way to succeed is to make a new peer group that has similar goals to your own. Finding them is easy; just attend an Amazing Grazing Workshop or other educational event and engage the more experienced participants with questions. Experienced Adaptive Graziers are very likely to attend these educational events and you will find them amazingly open with sharing their ideas and practices.

Another issue with the way many of us were raised is that we were always in a competitive environment.  Competition can be a good thing as long as we have the correct target in mind. Learning from each other about practices that improve our land and profit margins should be our focus instead of bragging about weaning weights at the coffee shop.

Adaptive graziers tend to be open and sharing, and approach life more as a collaborative journey than as a competitive one. As you develop and grow your skills you will see opportunities to host educational demonstrations and workshops, so take advantage of those opportunities to lead and expand your network.

Step 3.  Do a preliminary analysis of your system resources.

Start with aerial maps of your place. You can get these off the web or from your FSA or NRCS office. Evaluate the acreage in each pasture and evaluate pasture condition. The best way to evaluate your forage stand and pasture condition is to do a “point step” analysis which involves randomly walking the pasture, periodically writing down the species of plant you are stepping on (or bare ground), and writing down a preliminary condition score from 1 to 5 (1 = bare with almost no productive forage and 5 = as good as it gets with a diversity of strong and desirable forages and no bare ground). Do this on at least 100 points and get the average for the pasture.

Were you able to identify all the major desirable and undesirable species? If not then reviewing the common weeds and pasture plants would be advised. (Here are some resources to help you with plant ID.) Was it easy for you to call out a condition score?  If not then take time to learn more about this topic. Condition scoring can be a complex subject, but also it is a simple concept you can learn to monitor continuously once you really know your pastures.

Take soil samples from each pasture to determine the pH and soil nutrient levels. Once you are practicing more intensive forms of Adaptive Grazing Management many of the manure and urine nutrients will cycle and reduce your need for fertilizer, but, if you start with low pH or low nutrient levels, you will need to correct them to get the system working. From this systematic approach you can start to better understand your pastures, what the balance of desirable and undesirable species is, identify weak and strong spots, and which pastures will give a bigger response to improved management or complete renovation.

Step 4.  Upgrade your electric fences and electric fencing skills. 

This is a critical step because Adaptive Grazing Management requires animals that are well trained to temporary fencing. You’ll need high power levels and good fence trouble shooting skills to make that happen. With traditional management and multi-wire perimeter fences, having some power on the fence some of the time may have worked, but it will not work with Adaptive Grazing Management. You need to understand the theory of how electric fence works, and how to use a fault finder to find shorts and keep power on the fence high. Bluntly, if you don’t maintain power on electric fence, animals will not respect temporary fence and you will likely abandon the journey to Amazing Grazing. (Here are all the OP articles on electric fencing. We’ll be adding more in coming issues!)

Step 5.  Train your animals to respect a single strand of wire.

It is critical that your animals have a high level of respect for temporary electric fence.  Electric fence is only a mental barrier, and that is played out to the extreme with a single strand of polywire.  However, once animals are well trained to it, it opens up a whole new world based on “The Power of One Wire“.  Those benefits include improved forage management, easier movement and gathering of animals, ability to flexibly exclude sensitive areas within pasture, and to respond to perimeter fence damage resulting from natural disasters.

To train the animals, set up a single strand of polywire on tread-in posts about 18 inches inside of a pen or a small pasture. It is probably better to use a small pasture because it is more the setting where the animals will first encounter polywire cross fences. The key to the training period is that there is plenty of power on the wire. We would recommend a minimum of 5 kilovolts. You might do some feeding under the wire so animals are close to it, and you also might use the trick of attaching a strip of aluminum foil with peanut butter on it to the wire to attract deer and teach them what polywire is too. It will take a few weeks for this preliminary training period, and then the training goes to the next level with a single strand cross fence.

This is Part 2 by Matt Poore and Johnny Rogers. Here’s Part 1 if you missed it.

These steps aren’t just 1-2-3 and you’re done. We’ve all started down this road, and these are some ideas to help us keep going.

Step 6.  Start cutting individual pastures in half with polywire.

The place to start with Adaptive Grazing Management is to divide each permanent pasture in half, with cattle entering the half with the water source whenever you rotate pastures. This change alone will lead to being able to double your stocking density and improvements in your system. We recommend using some rigid fiberglass or plastic posts on the ends (and potentially within the line) in these initial temporary divisions because animals, especially wildlife, will still be in the training process. Setting it up so it will not be easily torn down is good to start with, and as you repeat the process again and again you will learn how to make it stronger and more resilient to tear down using only tread in posts. Now you will also start to develop your skills at looking at a grazed sward and determining when to take down the division fence.  An average stop grazing height of 2-4 inches in all systems is not a bad rule of thumb, a little on the shorter side for bermudagrass-based systems (2-3 inches) than for fescue-based systems (3-4 inches).

Step 7.  Stockpile forage in autumn and strip-graze during the winter followed by dispersed hay feeding.

In early summer determine one or more pastures to stockpile for late fall or winter grazing. Here in North Carolina, this might be a mostly fescue field in many areas but could also be a bermudagrass field. Either way, manage the pastures so that the stand is in good shape (either grazed or clipped), and then add about 50 lbs of nitrogen on about September 1, and allow it to grow undisturbed until November 1 for bermudagrass or January 1 for tall fescue. If you’re in other parts of the country check with your local Natural Resources Conservation Serviceor Conservation District office, or with an extension professional to find out what works best for you.

When you start grazing, set up an initial grazing strip that includes the water source and an expected 2 to 3 days of grass.  Once the forage has been consumed you will need to move the fence to allocate enough grass to feed your cattle for the next 1 to 3 day grazing period. Moving cattle daily has many advantages but cannot be achieved in all situations. However, moving fence every three days is attainable and still gives great forage utilization. This is a great learning opportunity for you and your animals, and it seems doing some daily moves really helps you develop the skills of forage allocation. Try moving your cattle daily when you can (i.e. weekends) and resume the every third day move during the week.

Calculate the forage needs of your cows and determine an estimate of how much forage is available to target the length of your moves.  Of course you need to adapt the size of the offering as you go, but having an idea how many acres should be needed each day will give you a good starting point and a way to calculate a feed budget. Learning how to step off the length and width of your paddock will help you calculate the land area and forage allocation.  After you finish grazing all the stockpiled pastures start unrolling hay or rotating hay rings in areas that can benefit from animal impact and increased nutrients.

Step 8.  Start strip grazing with all pasture movements during the growing season.

Once you are into spring, continue to use the strip grazing technique, flip flopping two reels so that cows are always on a fresh strip, and keep another 1 to 3 day strip set up ahead of them.  Having the next strip set up will help you save time and offer added security in case your polywire is torn down by wildlife or your cattle As long as you are not in an individual pasture more than 10-14 days there is no need to set up a back fence to keep animals off the grazed areas..  If you see animals grazing in the area they already grazed (back-grazing) then you need to make your strips wider as they will always prefer to graze in the fresh strip if there is adequate forage there.  This practice that we call modified strip grazing will become your key grazing tool and you will use it as long as you are a grazier.  The flexibility in the size of strip you offer allows you to flex with your schedule, and you can also set up multiple strips ahead of time if you have to depend on a helper to periodically move your animals. It also allows you to impact animal performance by varying the stop grazing height.  In general the higher the stop grazing height the higher animal performance but the lower grazing utilization efficiency.  The reverse is true….at lower stop grazing height performance will be lower but utilization efficiency can be high.  On general terms use a higher stop grazing height with growing cattle or thin cows and a shorter stop grazing height with brood cows in good body condition.

Step 9.  Develop a comprehensive grazing plan acceptable to NRCS and other governmental agencies.

As you start to optimize the use of your current infrastructure you will see opportunities to improve by adding additional perimeter fencing, watering points, and permanent cross fencing. To guide these efforts you need a comprehensive forage and grazing plan that includes existing and needed infrastructure, that determines an animal/forage balance, and that will project infrastructure development to guide your financial planning and application for cost-share funds. There are many opportunities for both infrastructure development contracts, and also management-based contracts for practices such as Prescribed Grazing. This comprehensive plan will need to be facilitated by a trained planner that can help make sure the plan is acceptable to all agencies involved, and also will be a key for you to keep on a long-term plan for your system.

Step 10.  Implement additional upgrades to infrastructure.

As highlighted in your comprehensive plan, start to improve your watering system, upgrade perimeter fencing and add cross-fencing.  This infrastructure improvement usually needs to be prioritized and done in stages so that you make major improvements in system function with each project, and so you have time to continue your good management while completing the projects in a timely manner.  Full implementation of the comprehensive plan will take many years or even decades, and the plan must be revisited and updated as you go through time.

Step 11.  Continue to refine your skills, be persistent and tenacious.

It takes 5 to 10 years to really see the benefits of Adaptive Grazing Management.  The road to “Amazing Grazing” is challenging because you are dealing with a very dynamic system that is upset by many environmental factors.  With time your system will become more resilient to drought and flood, as a result of improved soil health, but that happens gradually and you have to be patient.  When the first drought hits, realize that the most critical principle in Adaptive Grazing Management is to avoid overgrazing at all costs.  When pastures are all down to the stop grazing height, pull cattle into a sacrifice area and feed hay.  Don’t get discouraged and abandon what you have started!  As soon as the rain comes you will be amazed at what you see compared to your neighbors that continued to graze all pastures through the drought.

Also, understand that it is not uncommon for temporary fence to be torn down when you are early in the game.  Don’t get frustrated and quit….observe, learn and adapt.  Was it low power, lack of training, or a physical failure (corner failed?) that led to the malfunction?  As your skills develop  your system failures in the temporary fence will become rare events, but they can still happen even in the best of systems.

Step 12.  Observe your system and continually improve your management skills.

One thing we love about Adaptive Grazing Management is that we continue to be challenged to learn at a more rapid pace even after all these years.  We realize   that there is knowledge in every mistake  and from every curve ball that nature throws our way. But, no problem or failure is without opportunity. The road to Amazing Grazing is a journey without an end.  Once you have been practicing Adaptive Grazing Management for several years you will realize that you really don’t get to Amazing Grazing, but you can get close to it if you are tenacious.

Continue to attend educational events and as you mature in your understanding of your management, and share that with other producers.  Adaptive graziers with a positive collaborative attitude are a very positive role model in our industry.  Share your grazing excitement with young people, either your immediate family, or through other youth programs.  Teach Adaptive Grazing Management skills to the next generation when they are young so that it is not a new concept to them when they start making the management decisions.

We welcome you on the journey to Amazing Grazing!

There are many producers that have started using Adaptive Grazing Management and are on the journey. It works out to be an exciting and mindful life trying to figure out where we fit into this complex ecosystem.  No matter where you are on the twelve step plan, review the steps and make sure you are on track.  Whether you are at the steps where you are just trying to gain awareness, needing to improve your electric fence skills, learning how to take and interpret soil samples, or needing to develop a comprehensive grazing plan we hope you’ll keep on reading On Pasture and looking for educational opportunities that will serve you well.