Category: Business

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 1

By   /  February 25, 2019  /

We think it is far more important to stop making hay on your land than it is to stop feeding hay on your land. Here are some things to think about.

What Made Sense in 1973 Doesn’t Make Sense Today

Making hay is a whole lot more expensive than it used to be. This table compares input costs for making hay in 1973 in contrast to 2013.

 

All of the input costs have increased at a much faster rate than the value of beef cattle, lamb, or milk. To be on par with costs experienced in 1973, fed cattle should have been $284/cwt, not the $148 they were.

Hay = Inexpensive Fertility

While making hay is expensive, in much of the US, hay can be bought for less than the cost of production. When you buy someone else’s hay and feed it on your property, you are buying their fertility at a highly discounted rate. In some years in some locations, you can buy beef cattle hay for less than the fertilizer value it contains.

This is a great opportunity for improving your land in a way that also benefits soil health.

Feeding Uniformly is the Key

The key to soil improvement is to get the hay fed uniformly over your pastures. This is how you can realize the greatest benefit from purchased hay as a planned fertility input.

Large round bales are still the norm in much of US cow country. Round bales can be unrolled with relatively low-cost equipment. Bales don’t unroll uniformly all the time, but the subsequent manure distribution is way better than feeding bales in ring feeders.

Big square bales can be flaked off easily in a systematic way to cover a specific area with each bale fed.

Bale processors are expensive pieces of equipment. If you are invested in something like this, make sure you are feeding all of your hay to optimize the distribution of manure across the pasture.

We need to be thinking about how much nitrogen and phosphorus is in each bale we are feeding so we can plan our daily feeding to apply appropriate levels of nutrients rather than feeding too little and not realizing the benefit we expected or feeding too much and overloading the soil and environment with excess N. We’ll look at that next week!

Stay tuned! Jim will be covering all the data and math in this series to help us figure out how to do the best we can at improving pastures with hay feeding. If you have questions for Jim, do share them in the comments section below!

Kate Miller: I Will Not Thank a Farmer

MARCH 8, 2019 12:39 PM

By AgWeb Guest Editor
AgWeb

Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Kate Miller, and do not necessarily represent the views of RanchersEdge.com

I was dining alone at my favorite local Mexican restaurant. I was covered in mud because it hasn’t stopped raining in Arkansas since October. I was freezing because the heater quit working in the tractor mysteriously, and I misplaced the bungee cord that closes the farm truck door. As I was scrolling through social media, I could identify with the numerous posts from ranchers I saw who begrudgingly were fighting the elements, be it blizzards and record setting temperatures or this never-ending monsoon and mud in the south. There were multiple posts about “thanking a farmer.” After spending months, tied to a tractor and sick calves and worrying about weather, I could identify with wholly that sentiment.

Having finished my beef fajitas, I noticed a sign the owner had placed at the register. It read: “Please accept our sincere thanks for letting us serve you. We greatly appreciate the fact you have chosen to do business with us. And in return, we pledge our continuing efforts to offer you the best service possible”

It struck a nerve.

The owner of this establishment did not demand that I thank him for his efforts to produce this dinner. He thanked me for choosing to do business with him.

In my mind, I scrolled through the Twitter feed I had witnessed. For how long have we as the ag community demanded that our customers thank us? When was the last time we thanked them? Are we operating from a place of entitlement, where we believe that our professions are somehow sacrosanct in the scheme of the economic ecosystem?

But wait, we toil in the hot summer sun and the cold winter snow—every single day. Yes, but so do the oil derrick hands in Odessa, Texas. But we cannot skip a day because living beings rely on us. Yes, doctors face the same challenge. We work 24/7 and never get a day off—no one just gives me a salary! Yes, so do most entrepreneurs. Yes, but we are underpaid! Said everyone the whole world over.

Even within the industry, other segments of our own business do not take to the Twittersphere and demand praise and thanks. When was the last time you saw any one who worked in a plant demand to be thanked for the 12-hour shift on the debone line?

What is abjectly worse is that by our own admissions we feel that we farmers and ranchers are the most important members of the value chain—we criticize packers for their margins. We pay the vet bill, eventually. We mock consumers for their ignorance and again for the demands they make upon us. And then we turn around and have the audacity to ask everyone to thank us?

When was the last time we showed any appreciation to anyone who chose to do business with us? When was the last time we thanked a feeder or a packer or a distributor or a grocer?

By our own standards–if we are going to thank the farmer, we need to thank the pen rider who doctors sick cattle in heat and blizzards, right? We need to thank the veterinarian who amassed six-figure student loans to answer your call at 2 am because you can’t get one pulled. We need to thank the immigrant who feeds his family by spending 6 days a week surrounded by death, cutting the jugular of 1000 head a day. We need to thank the USDA inspector who earned a master’s degree to work in below freezing temperatures, who worries if another government shutdown will impede her salary.

We need to thank the line supervisor who can speak broken Spanish and Swahili and Burmese to make sure the job gets done right. What about thanking those same production line workers who do the same repetitive cut day after day after day? We need to thank the blast freezer fork lift operator who works alone at sub-zero every day of the year. We need to thank the truck driver who misses his son’s first t-ball game on a run to Amarillo. We need to thank the sales manager who takes the cussing from a chef and loses his bonus because of a rotten injection site lesion in a round because a rancher ignored Beef Quality Assurance (BQA). We need to thank the sales rep whose paycheck depends on the yield of brisket from week to week.  We need to thank every single person who touches our product once it leaves our farms. We need to thank them for the work they do that makes our livelihood possible.

But mostly, we need to thank our customers. We need to thank the people who buy our product, who put their faith in the chain and decide to buy beef to serve their families. We need to thank a chef for serving beef in their restaurants. Instead of asking them to thank us for arguably doing our job, we need to thank them for giving the product we raise value. Without the customer putting beef in their shopping cart or without someone choosing as steak on a restaurant menu, we would cease to exist.

But the reality is as well without the pen rider, the vet, the packer, the line worker, the truck driver, the salesman, the marketer, the grocer—we would cease to exist as well. Cattlemen are a link in the chain, and some of us can argue that we are the endangered species in the ecosystem. (But anyone trying to hire an experienced meat cutter or a driver might argue differently.) The best way to preserve our way of life, the best way to ensure that cattle remain in our pastures is to make sure that beef remains on tables of consumers.

Everything else is noise. Everything else is shouting into the void. We can disagree on Checkoffs. We can disagree on Country of Origin Labeling. We can disagree on BQA. But at the end of the day—without the consumer—none of that matters.

I urge those of you who use social media to interface with the world at large to stop demanding that consumers heap thanks upon you. Instead take a moment to listen to their questions, to answer them without condescension or reproach, and then thank them for the opportunity to tell your story. Then thank them for their patronage, ask them how you can help them have a better beef experience and be a representative of your commodity. Check your entitlement. Start a dialogue. You never know, you might find that by extending grace to the community that supports you—you’ll find the appreciation that you seek.

Bio: Kate Miller is the managing partner for IMB Cattle Company, a third-generation ranch in Southern Arkansas which just celebrated its 51st anniversary. With over ten years in protein marketing including domestic and export sales, Kate continues to try and bridge the ever-widening gap between production agriculturalist, the food production industry and consumers.

Having a Ranch AND a Life

by Dave Pratt

A friend included me in an email chain informing us of a farmer he knew who recently took his life. I don’t pretend to begin to know this man’s pain or anything about his situation. But the story struck me as beyond sad.

Responses in the email chain spoke of the stress of farming, peer pressure to follow traditional practices, financial stress, the personal health and the ecological consequences of reliance on ag chemicals, and more. I don’t know how much this man’s pain had to do with the farm and how much stemmed from other things. The emails made it seem like the farm had a lot to do with it. That’s understandable. Agriculture is stressful. Compounding the physical demands is the financial pressure, the uncertainty of weather and markets, the weight of expectations  to continue a multigenerational legacy, and the peer pressure to conform to the status quo.

After reading the emails I found myself sad and frustrated. Sad for this man’s pain and the unimaginable pain his family and others who knew him must feel. Frustrated because agriculture doesn’t have to be this way.

Please understand, this column is not about this farmer or his suicide. This tragic event is the trigger that got me thinking about an industry-wide issue. Rates of depression and suicide in farming and ranching are disproportionately high relative to other segments of the population. That seems particularly strange given that most farmers and ranchers consider ranching and farming to be a lifestyle first and a business second. If their farms and ranches were a business first and a lifestyle second, I think the emotional well-being of farmers and ranchers would improve. One RFP grad summed it up well when he said, “When we focused on our lifestyle all we did was work our butts off. When we focused on the business, our lives got so much better.”

We grow up learning that the harder we work, the more successful we will be. But as many farmers and ranchers work harder and harder, they fall further and further behind. If hard physical work were the solution to our problems, our problems would be fewer and smaller. Working harder is NOT the answer. In fact, it is part of the problem. We’ve become so busy working in the business that we don’t have the time or energy to work on the business. Of course, if we were to work on our businesses effectively, we wouldn’t have to work so hard in them.

There’s something else that keeps us from working on our businesses. I don’t think many farmers or ranchers know how. Growing up we learned how to grow crops and raise livestock. No one ever showed us how to run a business that grows crops and raises livestock.

The Ranching For Profit School is not a school on farming or ranching. It is a business school that teaches farmers and ranchers how to transform their farms and ranches into successful businesses. When participants  walk in Sunday afternoon, most own a collection of expensive assets and a bunch of physically-demanding, low-paying jobs. By the time they leave, they own a business. Until farmers and ranchers change this fundamental paradigm, they will continue to struggle economically, financially and emotionally.

Focusing on business before lifestyle won’t eliminate the stresses farmers and ranchers face, but it does put us in a much stronger, healthier position to deal with those stresses. I’m convinced that if farmers and ranchers embraced a business-first approach there’d be a lot fewer tragedies like the one my friend shared with me.

If you want to see how transformative the business-first approach can be, watch this video: VIDEO

Climate Change Solutions

Here is a great article from Holistic Management Canada Newsletter September 2018 Whether you believe in Climate Change or not: If you store more carbon in your soil, you will be more profitable, pastures more productive, and your land will be more resilient. As Blain states it is a WIN-WIN solution.

Climate Change Solutions by Blain Hjertaas
Several months ago, I wrote about the history of the climate change and the limited success of change to date. In fact most people are disengaged and feel powerless to effect change on the single greatest event that we have ever faced as a species. This focuses on some of the practical solutions that we are doing and could all be doing.

If you look into climate issues one of the first things you will come across is the Keeling Curve. In 1958 Dr. Charles Keeling set up an observatory on Mauna Loa in Hawaii high on the side of a mountain facing into the Pacific trade winds. He wanted samples that would be representative of world levels. In 1958 the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was 312 parts per million (PPM). The observatory is still working today and levels are 409PPM (as of July 2). (See attached photos from previous post)

If we look at a single year the levels are the highest in the winter and the lowest in the summer. The reason for this is more land mass in the northern hemisphere. As we green up in the spring the green growth uses a tremendous amount of C02 which brings the curve down. There isn’t an equivalent amount of land in the southern hemisphere to offset our winter period so the curve oscillates being the highest in winter and lowest in summer.

How much? On an annual basis the natural cycles remove about 120 billion tonnes of C02 in the spring and in the fall about 130 billion tonnes are released back into the atmosphere from vegetation dying, land use, fire and burning fossil fuel. Hence the gradual slow increase in the curve which is currently at 409PPM.

If we want to become serious about climate change we need to ramp up photosynthesis, so that we are removing 130 billion tonnes every spring or better yet 140 billion tonnes so we begin to remove the legacy load from the atmosphere. Over time our C02 levels will begin to decline and our climate will become more stable.

The question is how do we do this? Most of our discussions over the last 60 years have focused on limiting our burning of fossil fuels as the solution to climate change. Fossil fuels contribute about 6% of the 130 billion tonnes that move annually in C02 cycle. I’m not saying we shouldn’t burn less fossil fuel. If we want to have an effect why wouldn’t we do something that has a major effect not a 6% effect?

We can see from the above chart, how we have changed the surface of our home over the last 10000 years with agriculture. Instead of 13 billion ha doing photosynthesis, we now have 8.5 billion ha doing photosynthesis and some of that is not very efficient. Crops are only green for 70 or 80 days of the year and the desert is doing nothing. If all 13 billion ha of our surface were functioning effectively we would not be having this discussion.

To solve the problem we need to ramp up photosynthesis worldwide so we are cycling at least 130 billion tonnes per year and better yet 140 billion.

As nature did, we only have one means to do this. That is to maximize plant growth so as to:
• A) Draw down carbon from the air to fix it via plant photosynthesis and then…
• B) Minimize how much of that fixed carbon is oxidized back to CO2 and instead allow it to be…
• C) Converted via soil fungi into stable soil carbon to restore the Earth’s carbon ‘sponge’.
This A, B and C process is simple and natural, but what matters is that we do it, now.
How do we do it on a world scale? I don’t know but part of it is knowledge. The good news is that most of us are already doing it. With our grazing management we are maximizing photosynthetic capture which relates to C02 cycling. The beauty of it is that it gives us more production and makes our system more resilient as we build our soil carbon sponge. It’s a win/ win for everyone as we begin to regenerate our soils using holistic principles.

Spread the good news about what you are doing on your farms and ranches. It is critical we get our good news story out, that we are the solution to climate change.

The above is a very brief summary of the work that Dr. Walter Jehne is doing. HM Canada recently sponsored him at a meeting in Regina.

For more on Dr. Walter Jehne’s work:

READ: http://www.globalcoolingearth.org/regenerate-earth/
WATCH: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nC6j80sLZo

RMC’S TEN FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS OF SUSTAINABLE RANCHING

  1. TRANSFORMING your businessBEGINS WITHTRANSFORMING yourself

    Transforming your ranch into an effective business involves changes in land management, animal husbandry, money management and in the way you interact with the people in your business. But the biggest change isn’t to the land or the animals. The biggest change is in you.

  2. IT ISN’T SUSTAINABLEif it isn’t  PROFITABLE

    Profit is to business as breathing is to life. A ranch that doesn’t produce an economic profit isn’t a business. It’s a hobby … an expensive hobby.

  3. FOCUS ON effectivenessNOT EFFICIENCY

    Efficiency and effectiveness are not the same thing. It doesn’t do any good to do things right if you are doing the wrong things! If something is efficient, but not effective, stop it immediately!

  4. GET IN SYNCHwith nature

    Most ranch businesses are structured to fight nature. That’s expensive and exhausting. Businesses that match enterprises and production schedules to nature’s cycles are more profitable, less work and more fun!

  5. YOU DON’T GET harmonyWHEN EVERYONE SINGS THE SAME NOTE

    In any business, especially family businesses, there are bound to be differences of opinion. Our decisions are improved when we bring different perspectives and ideas to the table and engage in constructive debate, as long as we agree that, at the end of the day, we all ride for the brand.

  6. WORK LESSand  make more

    Unsustainable effort is unsustainable. Period! Planning is the key to simplifying enterprises, increasing profit and reducing labor.

  7. RANCHINGis a business

    We often act as though we have a choice between ranching as a lifestyle or a business. The lifestyle of ranching improves when the ranch is a successful business first.

  8. WORK ON YOUR BUSINESStwo mornings a week

    It’s not enough to work IN your business, you must work ON your business.

  9. WEALTHY on the balance sheet& BROKE AT THE BANK

    The misallocation of capital is the biggest financial problem in ranching. At the Ranching For Profit School you’ll learn how to capitalize and concessionize assets to increase profit and improve the financial health of your business.

  10. RANCHING FOR PROFITis NOT an oxymoron

    Many ranchers seem to think that profit is dictated by prices and weather…two things beyond our direct control. Ranching for Profit graduates prove every year that the key to profit is management.

Need A Succession Plan? Take A Sabbatical

Long periods of time off let you test people for the next role.

By David BurkusAuthor, “Under New Management”

The majority of small business owners don’t have a succession plan, according to several surveys. While the exact percentage moves around with each survey, it’s almost always above 51 percent, and for a variety of reasons. Chief among them always seems to be that leaders are too busy doing other things to think about it.

Surprisingly, there’s a way to solve both problems at once: take a sabbatical.

Recent research, and the experience of companies from McDonald’s to Intel to the Motley Fool, has found that time off can be used to help stress test the organizational chart and experiment with potential leaders in interim roles.

In one study, researchers surveyed 61 leaders at five different nonprofit organizations with sabbatical programs. Each organization had slightly different requirements, but all required at least 3 months off and discouraged executives from visiting the office during the sabbatical period.

The researchers found the majority of leaders surveyed said that the interim leaders (those who filled in for them during their leave) were more effective and responsible when the sabbatees returned. Many even reported those interim leaders continuing some responsibilities and making the overall leader-subordinate relationship more collaborative. Some organizations even reported feeling much more confident in their succession planning since the interim leaders were able to try out the role and assess if they were qualified and, if not, what development opportunities were still needed. One firm was conducting a national search for a future executive director but ended up hiring the deputy director because she had done so well as the interim leader.

While the research on sabbaticals in the workplace is relatively new, sabbaticals themselves are not. McDonald’s has had a sabbatical program in place for their executives for several years. Many technology companies like Intel and Adobe offer them.

At the very least, having people rotate out for an extended period of time allows organizations to stress test their organizational chart. It gives potential leaders a chance to try out for the next role and it gives senior leaders a chance to see what happens when key people are suddenly not a part of the company anymore. That’s why Motley Fool has run a surprise vacation program for several years. Employees names are chosen at random and given two weeks paid vacation, but there’s a catch: it must be taken within the next four weeks. The idea is to make sure no single employee is so critical that the company falls apart.

You may not ever create a formal succession plan, with developmental goals for future leaders and a set timeline. However, by encouraging yourself and your employees to take time away…you’ll be helping prepare everyone for any sudden departures. For these and a lot of other reasons time off in the form of sabbaticals really pays off.