Category: Business

7 Steps to Creating a Successful Ranch Management Plan

7 Steps to Creating a Successful Ranch Management Plan

By Hugh Aljoe
Director of Producer Relations

Posted Jan. 1, 2020

What is intentional management? It might be easier to describe what it is not than to describe what it is. In an attempt at “tongue-in-cheek” humor, let me describe what intentional management is not.

You might not be managing intentionally if:

  • Your record-keeping system is a shoe box or a file folder in which you keep receipts until tax time.
  • Your marketing plan is to sell the largest calves each time you pen the herd, weaning the calves en route to the sale barn.
  • Your winter feeding program is to provide cubes a couple of times a week to the herd without knowing the quality of the hay or standing forage on offer.
  • Your stocking rate was set by what the neighbor, your granddad or your real estate agent suggested, and you don’t adjust it until drought forces you to.
  • You don’t routinely test and analyze your pasture soils, yet you routinely apply fertilizer.

I’m sure you can think of other s of how we as producers too often go about “running” cattle with little forethought and planning. In favorable years, we can get by easily enough, but in unfavorable years (due to weather, markets or other issues), difficulties arise. These unanticipated surprises can be costly and often difficult to overcome. Hopefully, most of us learn from our mistakes and failures and, if we survive, can laugh at them in hindsight. The secret is to fail early, fail often, but fail cheaply — and adapt our management so that we do not repeat our mistakes.

MANAGE WITH INTENT

Intentional management is the active management of the collective components of an operation toward the achievement of realistic, well-defined goals. It is a holistic and forward-focused management approach in which an operational management plan is created and used as a template to plan and prioritize activities then to monitor and measure progress toward defined production and economic objectives. Management plans need to be built to complement the resources of the operation — the land, facilities, personnel and production system(s) being operated. Even though there is always some uncertainty within an agricultural operation, with a management plan in place, a producer has a road map to guide him or her toward a predetermined outcome. When variations in climate or markets or other surprises occur and force a change of course, having the plan in place helps guide a producer to either continue to navigate toward the original outcome or alter the course toward a new, more realistic or attainable goal, given the circumstances.

PLANNING BRINGS CLARITY OF PURPOSE

For intentional management to be more than a concept, it takes forethought, planning and action. The biggest challenge for most producers is getting started. It is much too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities of running a cattle ranch or agricultural operation. It is in the intentionality of developing a management plan where clarity of purpose is achieved. This is where a manager establishes a vision of a desired future for the ranch, identifies the key management objectives to be accomplished, devises an action plan that addresses the critical aspects of each management component, and integrates these components into the management plan for the ranch that the entire staff will implement.

The management plan for the current year becomes the template for the following year, with continual fine-tuning and adjustments over time while adapting to the changing industry, market conditions and climate variations that will occur. Through intentional management and use of a management plan, managers are more likely to attain their desired goals, will experience fewer surprises, and are better prepared for the unexpected when it occurs. Then, instead of just laughing at mistakes of the past, we can laugh ourselves all the way to the bank.

Cattle in pasture

7 STEPS OF INTENTIONAL MANAGEMENT

1. MANAGEMENT PLAN

First is the management plan itself, which is the compilation and integration of the other six components.

2. PASTURE MANAGEMENT

Second is the pasture management plan, which includes the soils, forages and water resources. The management plan is grounded by the pasture management plan, which forms the foundation upon which the other components rest. The pasture management plan is the first component to address in intentional management.

3. STOCKING RATE MANAGEMENT

Third is the stocking rate management plan, which entails the matching of grazing livestock numbers to forage production as well as managing and adapting livestock numbers as forage production changes within and throughout years.

4. CATTLE MANAGEMENT

Fourth is the cattle management plan. The cattle management plan includes the breeding, nutrition, health and husbandry aspects of a cattle program, which ideally complements the land resources of the operation.

5. MARKETING PLAN

Fifth is the marketing plan, which leverages the attributes of the cattle and management for optimum economic results. Typically, this means managing the ranch resources so there is an element of flexibility within the stocking rate for retained ownership of calves or other stocker cattle enterprises as well as timing sales with favorable cattle markets and market cycles.

6. RECORD-KEEPING SYSTEM

The sixth component is a good record-keeping system for ranch operations. This is a record-keeping system that allows easy tracking and monitoring of critical production and economic information. It also provides managers the ability to conduct enterprise analyses, prepare financial statements, and develop monthly and annual operational reports.

7. PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT PLAN

Seventh is a personnel management plan, which allows a manager to intentionally develop the skills and knowledge of ranch staff to build competencies and enhance their value to the operation. A personnel management plan addresses the needs of the operation, from onboarding a new employee to rewarding valued and tenured employees. It also includes performance evaluations, goal-setting sessions, training and professional improvement.

Do you possess the characteristics of an intentional beef producer?

Intentional Management

Robert Wells, Noble Research Institute livestock consultant Jan 24, 2020 Updated Jan 27, 2020

To be successful, any business person must develop a plan and then devise a strategy on how to work the plan to accomplish desired goals. That’s especially important in the cattle business, where most cow-calf producers would agree that the return on investment on an annual cash basis is typically low.

In order to become and remain profitable, producers must effectively manage the operation by paying close attention to all aspects of the ranch. If this is done correctly, revenue and expenses also will be accounted for. An intentional beef producer is one who takes the business seriously and is willing to go through the process of developing and working a plan for his or her operation. The following is a list of characteristics that successful, intentional producers share. Intentional beef producers:

• Understand the importance of record keeping.

Find a record-keeping system that works for your individual style, whether a paper ledger or on a computer. The key is to keep records that are meaningful and that you will use to make management decisions. Do not collect data on metrics you will never use, as this creates extra work that will have no measurable outcome you will implement.

Keep detailed enough records that you can understand what occurred “once the ink dries” later in time. Identify key production and economic metrics you can use to monitor your operation. Examples of this would be length of calving season and calving distribution, amount of feed/hay/mineral fed, pounds of weaned calf per exposed cow, body condition scores (BCS), pregnancy and calving percentages, weight and prices of all animals sold, and grazing days in each pasture.

With the help of the aforementioned parameters, you should monitor inventories of cattle, feed, hay and available pasture forage, as well as production costs and revenue generated.

• Know animal nutrition management can make or break an operation.

There is an old saying in the industry that “you can’t starve a profit out of a cow.” This statement is true and has been reaffirmed many times over. The feeding program can account for 40-60 percent of the total annual cost of maintaining a cow in most operations. This typically equates to several hundreds of dollars per cow annually.

Work with a nutritionist to develop a strategic feeding program where the supplemental feed is designed to complement the quality of the forage base the cow is consuming. For spring-calving cows that are fed hay during winter, feeding the lowest quality hay earlier in the winter makes the most sense. Keep the best quality hay for later in the winter, and incidentally, later in the cow’s gestation cycle or early lactation.

• Try never to buy hay based strictly on a cost-per-bale basis or to feed on a cost-per-bag or ton basis. Better quality hay may cost more, but it can dramatically reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental feed. The break-even price of hay is the cost at which you would purchase feed to supplement the low-quality feed. If you are in a situation where hay must be provided, feed the best hay possible to reduce the need for additional supplementation. The cheapest option is rarely the right feed for the circumstances.

Many times of the year, the cow is more deficient of energy than protein. Remember, a cow is not as concerned with nutrient percentage or concentration of the feed as much as she is with how many actual ounces or pounds of a nutrient she receives daily to meet her needs.

Finally, match the cow’s time of highest nutrient requirements—early lactation or around 2 months of calf age—to the time of year when the pastures supply the highest quality and quantity forage of the year. During preconditioning of the calf, balance the cost of gain with the value of gain. In many years, more profit can be made in a 60-day preconditioning program than is realized on the calf coming off the cow.

• Know when and how to market calves.

Determine the type of animal you will sell and when you will sell it. Will you sell the calf right off the cow or after a preconditioning program? Will you retain further ownership into the feedlot but sell live, or sell on a grid? Do you want to market quality replacement heifers rather than terminal calves? The answers to these questions will provide focus to your program.

Regardless of when or where you market calves, remember that uniformity of calf type, age and weight is typically rewarded by the buyers, as it helps them meet their marketing goals as well. Identify value-based marketing programs such as the Integrity Beef Alliance to help you collectively market cattle like a much larger entity. No matter how large your outfit is, it can still benefit from selling in a market that has more cattle that are similar to yours.

The goal of feedlots is to fill entire pens which could hold as many as 200-300 head, with very similar cattle. One uniform truckload will only fill a portion of a pen. Remember to give consideration to how you market cull cows and bulls, as they typically can account for up to 15-20 percent of the annual ranch revenue.

• Have a defined outcome for the ranch breeding program.

What type of cattle will you produce? This goes beyond the concept of uniformity previously discussed. Make sure the calving season is as tight as possible, ideally 60 days or less. If you are a commercial producer, consider the value of heterosis and the advantages built into a well-defined and thought-out crossbreeding program.

Identify the breeds you will use, and then work to find the right individuals within each breed to reach your goals. Consider breed complementarity, where the characteristics of the two breeds will be synergized in the resulting progeny. A good example of this is Angus x Charolais or Angus x Hereford.

• Have a comprehensive herd health program.

As the cow-calf owner, you have a moral obligation to the animal to set them up for a healthy life. Work with your veterinarian to develop a comprehensive vaccination and herd health program. Remember to consider that the calves will not live their entire lives on your ranch; therefore, they must be vaccinated against the typical diseases they could be exposed to once they leave the ranch. Become Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) trained and certified.

By adhering to BQA standards, you are honoring the commitment to develop and market a quality calf. BQA certification also helps develop consumer confidence in beef. Part of BQA is proper nutrition and health of the calf as well as keeping records. If you do not have documentation, you cannot prove how your cattle were immunized.

• Optimize stocking rate and pasture management

Set a realistic stocking rate for your operation. Make sure that the forages in each pasture are provided rest at different times of the year, across years. Monitor rainfall events and understand the concept of effective rainfall. Not all precipitation that falls will lead to increased forage growth. An intentional grazier will record when cattle are moved into and out of each pasture.

He or she will consider setting up exclosures to help monitor forage disappearance and growth, will use soil tests before fertilizing introduced pastures, and will use prescribed weed and brush control to reduce invasive species encroachment. A cost-effective grazing principle is to use standing dormant forages instead of hay during the dormant season. Cover crops can add a new dynamic to the grazing operation, as well.

• Develop a ranch management calendar.

Begin with the end in mind. Determine when you want to sell your calves and what your end-product will be for most years, and work backward from there to develop the management calendar. The management calendar should include the following dates: bull turn-in and pickup (hence subsequent calving dates); weaning and marketing dates; when to BCS the cows; when to work calves for the initial and booster vaccinations; when to conduct a breeding soundness exam; when to scout for weeds; and when to apply fertilizer and/or lime.

Additionally, an intentional producer will develop a plan for when to consider grazing each pasture, all the while recognizing that the exact date will vary based on weather and other uncontrollable factors.

• Remain flexible.

Above all else, an intentional producer will learn to be flexible, since so many variables are out of one’s control. However, just because intentional producers have developed and are working a plan it does not mean they cannot adjust as the need arises. Conversely, they will be more strategically positioned to make correct and meaningful adjustments to their plan without wrecking their system, largely because of the knowledge gained from well-kept records. — Robert Wells, Noble Research Institute livestock consultant

Planning With Purpose

Practical Planning

Components of Intentional Management on a Ranch

Updated 

What is intentional management? It might be easier to describe what it is not than to describe what it is. In an attempt at “tongue-in-cheek” humor, let me describe what intentional management is not.

You might not be managing intentionally if:

  • Your record-keeping system is a shoe box or a file folder in which you keep receipts until tax time;
  • Your marketing plan is to sell the largest calves each time you pen the herd, weaning the calves en route to the sale barn;
  • Your winter-feeding program is to provide cubes a couple of times a week to the herd without knowing the quality of the hay or standing forage on offer;
  • Your stocking rate was set by what the neighbor, your granddad or your real estate agent suggested, and you don’t adjust it until drought forces you to; or
  • You don’t routinely test and analyze your pasture soils, yet you routinely apply fertilizer.

I’m sure you can think of other ways of how we as producers too often go about “running” cattle with little forethought and planning. In favorable years, we can get by easily enough, but in unfavorable years (due to weather, markets or other issues), difficulties arise.

These unanticipated surprises can be costly and often difficult to overcome. Hopefully, most of us learn from our mistakes and failures and, if we survive, can laugh at them in hindsight. The secret is to fail early, fail often, but fail cheaply—and adapt our management so that we do not repeat our mistakes.

 

Manage with intent

Intentional management is the active management of the collective components of an operation toward the achievement of realistic, well-defined goals. It is a holistic and forward-focused management approach in which an operational management plan is created and used as a template to plan and prioritize activities, then to monitor and measure progress toward defined production and economic objectives.

Management plans need to be built to complement the resources of the operation—the land, facilities, personnel and production system(s) being operated. Even though there is always some uncertainty within an agricultural operation, with a management plan in place, a producer has a road map to guide him or her toward a predetermined outcome.

When variations in climate or markets or other surprises occur and force a change of course, having the plan in place helps guide a producer to either continue to navigate toward the original outcome or alter the course toward a new, more realistic or attainable goal, given the circumstances.

 

Planning brings clarity of purpose

For intentional management to be more than a concept, it takes forethought, planning and action. The biggest challenge for most producers is getting started. It is much too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities of running a cattle ranch or agricultural operation. It is in the intentionality of developing a management plan where clarity of purpose is achieved.

This is where a manager establishes a vision of a desired future for the ranch, identifies the key management objectives to be accomplished, devises an action plan that addresses the critical aspects of each management component, and integrates these components into the management plan for the ranch that the entire staff will implement.

The management plan for the current year becomes the template for the following year, with continual fine-tuning and adjustments over time while adapting to the changing industry, market conditions and climate variations that will occur.

Through intentional management and use of a management plan, managers are more likely to attain their desired goals, will experience fewer surprises, and are better prepared for the unexpected when it occurs. Then, instead of just laughing at mistakes of the past, we can laugh ourselves all the way to the bank.

 

Components of intentional management

Management plan

First is the management plan itself, which is the compilation and integration of the other six components.

Pasture management

Second is the pasture management plan, which includes the soils, forages and water resources. The management plan is grounded by the pasture management plan, which forms the foundation upon which the other components rest. The pasture management plan is the first component to address in intentional management.

Stocking rate management

Third is the stocking rate management plan, which entails the matching of grazing livestock numbers to forage production as well as managing and adapting livestock numbers as forage production changes within and throughout years.

 

Cattle management

Fourth is the cattle management plan. The cattle management plan includes the breeding, nutrition, health and husbandry aspects of a cattle program, which ideally complements the land resources of the operation.

 

Marketing plan

Fifth is the marketing plan, which leverages the attributes of the cattle and management for optimum economic results. Typically, this means managing the ranch resources so there is an element of flexibility within the stocking rate for retained ownership of calves or other stocker cattle enterprises as well as timing sales with favorable cattle markets and market cycles.

 

Record-keeping system

The sixth component is a good record-keeping system for ranch operations. This is a record-keeping system that allows easy tracking and monitoring of critical production and economic information. It also provides managers the ability to conduct enterprise analyses, prepare financial statements, and develop monthly and annual operational reports.

 

Personnel management plan

Seventh is a personnel management plan, which allows a manager to intentionally develop the skills and knowledge of ranch staff to build competencies and enhance their value to the operation. A personnel management plan addresses the needs of the operation, from onboarding a new employee to rewarding valued and tenured employees. It also includes performance evaluations, goal-setting sessions, training and professional improvement. — Hugh Aljoe,

Noble Research Institute director of producer relations

Beef’s greatest talent is protein upcycling

By Lacey Newlin Jan 7, 2020

“There are some really highly educated people out there who are actively against the beef industry,” said Tryon Wickersham, associate professor of animal nutrition at Texas A&M University. “I don’t think there is going to be anything we can do to change that. I think they will be against everything we do, no matter how we do it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mount a defense or stop educating the consumers about the value we bring to their plates.”

Wickersham spoke recently at the Oklahoma State University Beef Conference in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in a presentation called “Beef’s job title.” He says beef’s job title is to be a protein upcycler, which means to improve the value of protein.

Beef’s greatest talent is protein upcycling

 

 

 

 

Tryon Wickersham, associate professor of animal nutrition at Texas A&M University, spoke recently at the Oklahoma State University Beef Conference about beef’s job title of protein upcycler. (Journal photo by Lacey Newlin.)

Wickersham says, on average, it takes 770 pounds of corn to get a beef animal ready for slaughter. Corn is the primary source of human edible protein, or HEP, we feed and the main competition for food sources between cattle and humans. HEP does not necessarily mean tasty protein, but it is protein a person could consume. For example, grass is a source of non-HEP. Soybean meal, though we would not want to consume it, is a great source of HEP. Some people challenge agriculture for raising corn-fed cattle and believe we should be feeding all that corn to humans.

“If we didn’t feed corn to cattle, we wouldn’t compete with humans for that much food,” he said. “To justify corn-fed beef, we have to be able to say it is a better use of corn to feed it to cattle instead of children.”

He says children are used in his model because they have high amino acid requirements and they grow rapidly. The 770 pounds of corn we normally feed to one beef animal would meet the indispensable amino acid requirements of three children, according to Wickersham. Indispensable amino acids must be consumed in a diet to meet your protein requirements. If a child does not consume them, growth will be stunted.

“We don’t think a lot about stunting in the United States, but it’s a real problem in the world,” Wickersham said. “The world is not deficient in calories, it’s deficient in protein and other micro-nutrients and beef happens to be a really good source of those things. If you want to be a vegetarian in the United States you can, and you can meet your requirements and not be deficient, but not everyone is in the United States.”

Wickersham says corn is also high in calories, so those children would have to consume a lot more calories to meet their amino acid needs. In fact, it would be essentially impossible for a child to eat enough corn to meet their requirements.

On the other hand, if we feed the corn to cattle, through the value of protein upcycling we could feed 17 children and easily meet their protein requirements by feeding that one beef animal the 770 pounds of corn. Furthermore, ruminants can utilize sources of biomass that other meat-producing animals, such as fish, pigs and chickens, cannot.

“We’re really dependent on ruminal microbes to convert low-quality sources of protein into a more valuable source of indispensable amino acids,” Wickersham said. “Our animals can eat things that those other animals can’t and convert them into steak.”

Balancing the pillars of sustainability

Another method Wickersham uses to measure protein upcycling is net protein contribution or NPC. It estimates how a production system is contributing to meeting human protein requirements. Wickersham says this metric does allow us to address social sustainability. Sustainability is built on three pillars: social, environmental and economic sustainability. Wickersham says producers cannot pick just one pillar to focus on, they must balance them all.

“The beef industry does a really good job of addressing economic sustainability because everyone wants to stay in business,” he said. “We think about environmental sustainability indirectly as a result of improving economics. However, we rarely think about social sustainability of beef cattle production.”

According to Wickersham, methane production and HEP consumption are inversely related. The more HEP we feed cattle, generally methane production goes down. Conversely, if we feed them less HEP, methane goes up.

“We want them to balance each other,” Wickersham said. “We don’t want to go too far down on NPC. We want to have something counter balancing and pushing against NPC, so we are making the best decisions for the environment too.”

Another important figure is protein quality ratio or PQR, which determines if we are improving the protein quality of the product produced. As an example, the input PQR of corn is 36.8 and the output of beef is 112, by the end of the process, the beef animal has improved the protein quality three-fold. Wickersham says corn is about as bad as you can get when it comes to HEP and PQR and beef is at the best. Beef is a fixed biology; we cannot change the amino acid profile for the output. We can, however, change the input.

“We want the protein produced to be better than the protein we fed,” Wickersham explained.

Wickersham says we can determine if beef is competing with humans for HEP if we multiply HEP by PQR which will equal the NPC. If it is one or above, it is contributing to the human protein supply. Beef is usually around three, but at times it rises or falls, depending on phases of the beef cycle.

Wickersham says beef has a really great story to tell, but most of the time we fail to tell that story very well. He says NPC is a useful tool for defining the value of beef production systems.

“It gives us social sustainability and allows us to tell a compelling story that beef cattle are producing improved-value protein,” Wickersham said. “It also gives us an environmental sustainability and efficiency of nutrient utilization and provides us a way of capturing the benefit of having cows grazing our pasture. That brings value to humans. We are taking that grass that we have no way to utilize and turning it into steak.”

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 580-748-1892 or lnewlin@hpj.com.

Testing New Futures

Testing New Futures

Holistic Ranch Management More Than Grass

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor

“No. You missed that,” Scott Johnson says, correcting a caller. He and his wife, Jean, were traversing a part of eastern Colorado on one end of a long-distance struggle with cell service. The caller had entirely missed the point Scott made about holistic management. It is much more than grass.

The template of holistic management laid over the Johnson family’s Flying Diamond Ranch, Scott explains, is a collaboration of moving parts. It considers the harsh seasons of Colorado’s semiarid eastern plains and the sustainability of the ranch’s composite Angus herd. It is management of predatory coyotes, of spring calving and scrutiny of meat markets. Most of all, it is family — this one taking its first steps into a sixth generation with five grandchildren, four born in 11 months.

“Do you follow my way of thinking?” Scott asks. “If our ROI [return on investment] is great, but someone is maimed, we wouldn’t be real proud [of our performance]. We will give up profit for safety or harmony,” he says. “The focus is on the whole. If we’re not getting along as a family, if we’re not safe, then the rest of this really doesn’t matter,” he explains. “It’s its entirety. Its wholeness. Its balance. Not perfection. But, bottom line, [we are] profit-oriented. Business is business.”

The Flying Diamond’s clean and highly viewable website uses six words to articulate holistic management: “Ranching with family. Working with nature.”

BORN ON A CATTLE DRIVE

Flying Diamond is 112 years in the making. Charlie Collins, Scott’s great-grandfather, fell in love with the land when, as a teen in the late 1800s, he trailed cattle near the banks of Big Sandy Creek on a drive from Mexico to Montana. By 1907, Collins had moved his family from Kansas to Kit Carson, where the ranch is still headquartered today.

The ranch is dominated by a shortgrass and sand sage landscape. Thick riparian areas border the Big Sandy and Horse creeks, tributaries of the Arkansas River. Culls are based on a female’s ability to wean a calf every year beginning at age 2 and succeed in 13 inches of precipitation and temperatures running the scale from below zero to above 100ËšF.

The cattle winter on corn circles in Kansas and Nebraska. “We like to rest our pastures during the winter. It’s healthier for our grass to have the cattle off and let it rest, and get a little more growth,” Jean says. Scott adds, “Having cattle on cornstalks, our day-to-day chores slow down a little bit in the winter. We can give family a little breather.”

Flying Diamond is an operation run by a family of type A personalities, Scott allows. “We’re not real chitchatters. We socialize. We have good times. We want to maintain excellent family relations. But, we’re not sitting around drinking a lot of coffee.”

GENERATIONS MANAGE TOGETHER

Scott and Jean anchor the Flying Diamond’s fourth generation. Their four adult children represent its fifth. Ownership is based on a meritocracy. The more a family member contributes, the more they own.

Jen Livsey, married to Jay, is the oldest. She is a Princeton University undergraduate and the first female graduate from the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management. She recently opened Eastco Group, a livestock and drought insurance business. Jen oversees the rotational-grazing plan and analyzes purchase and lease opportunities.

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Will and Lauren Johnson live full-time on the ranch. A Marine Corps veteran, Will is CEO of Flying Diamond Ranches Inc.

Myles Johnson and his wife, Katie, live in Idalia, Colorado, where Myles is the K through 12 superintendent of schools. Myles is the ranch’s administrative officer, managing compliance, meetings and corporate records. Katie is a certified public accountant and manages the ranch books.

Charlie Johnson and his wife, Kaitlin, live in Kit Carson. He is chief operating officer (COO) of Flying Diamond Ranches Inc. He partners with Jen in livestock and drought insurance.

Business is organized around communications—face-to-face, weekly conference calls and a monthly executive committee meeting. Quarterly board meetings are a newer function Kirk Samuelson, Scott’s cousin, brought to the ranch. Samuelson served as COO of Fortune 500 Kiewit Corp., in Omaha, until he retired. He and Scott are cochairmen of the board for Flying Diamond. Quarterly board meetings are formal. “Ten years ago, I was the dictator,” Scott admits. “Now, no one is comfortable with that. When we talk about family harmony, that’s not to suggest there aren’t red faces and pounding on the table.”

The board meetings are to play a role in the ranch’s vitality. “You go to workshops, and you hear horror stories,” Jean says. “Families won’t talk to each other. Ranches divide. That is a threat. How do you keep a 100-year-old ranch together for the next generation?”

The board meetings have a start-stop time and a structured agenda. They often include talks by outside experts. Assignments are given before the meeting—budgets, range management, cattle movements, fertility testing and branding, selling bulls, commodity markets and new market opportunities. “There is an element of accountability brought into the operation that we didn’t have before,” Jean says. “You are held accountable. What did you say you were going to accomplish? Did you do it?”

AGREEMENT IS KEY GOAL

Flying Diamond’s meetings are collaborative. The goal is consensus. “At the end of the day, we want to come up with a compromise we can all live with. This is a new concept for us,” Scott explains.

New is a continuing education standard. Time spent in continuing education is measurable and reported quarterly toward an annual goal of 300 hours. Safety is one component. Jean is the ranch’s safety officer. She has organized horse- and cattle-handling courses. “We specifically do safety training, communicate safety and track safety by hours per year.”

Calving runs from March through May. “We try to mimic nature,” Scott says. “We calve when the deer and the antelope and the elk calve.” Cows graze on spring grasses and not supplemental feed, and the calves generally miss late-season blizzards. Predation is better managed. Calves invite coyotes in the dark of winter. Coyotes have a wider menu in the spring, when the ranch’s wildlife also is giving birth.

“Deer and antelope spend zero dollars, and their offspring have a 50 percent survival rate,” Jen told ColoradoBIZ in a February article about Flying Diamond Ranch. The goal of the ranch, she explained, is to improve the odds of survival among the calf crop but mimic nature to lower production costs.

And here, an example of holistic management: “Our guys aren’t out in blizzards. The weather is better for the calf and better for us,” Scott says.

PATH TO PRODUCTIVITY

Cattle graze only 5% of the ranch’s ground at any one time. Nearly 200 miles of single-strand electric interior fence mark paddocks typically less than 300 acres in size. Cattle graze in some paddocks no more than three days in a growing season. Stocking rates once ran 40 acres per cow/calf unit. Today, it is 30 acres per unit. “We are able to run 30% more animals. Maybe we’ll be able to get to 20 acres per cow/calf unit with more intensive grazing,” he says.

Scott traces his land-management practice to several days spent 35 years ago with Allan Savory, the guru of grazing lands holistic management. Savory’s notion was to move cattle frequently—as bison moved themselves—by way of intensive, human-directed management.

Flying Diamond has laid out 20 miles of water pipeline with the assistance of Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives and Conservation Stewardship programs. Seven wells pump water to 23 stock tanks. The family has an eye to tightening its grazing practices—that cattle would graze no more than 1% of the ranch’s acreage at any one time.

Few ranches are as intense, Scott says. “Everything gets more intense the more intense we get. More monitoring, quicker moves. We are not know-it-alls. But, it can be a big benefit to the resource and a big benefit financially.”

ONE GENERATION TO THE NEXT

Holistic management is one of many parts. Flying Diamond Ranch has won its share of acclaim for this approach as the recipient of the Colorado Leopold Conservation Award and regional Environmental Stewardship Award, the latter partially sponsored by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation.

Awards recognize achievement. Flying Diamond Ranch tests new futures. Its organic cuts, for example, are finding customers in San Francisco. As a member of its advisory committee, Jean learns how the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University studies water conservation, sustainability, even urban farming. But also, meatless meat.

“It sounds like science fiction to us, but maybe it’s something that’s coming,” says Jean, not setting aside opportunity perhaps born of a petri dish. The future does not discourage Flying Diamond Ranch. “We’re bullish on agriculture,” Scott says.

The Flying Diamond Ranch evolves and grows and shifts for a time beyond Scott and Jean, and perhaps beyond Jen, Will, Myles and Charles—from today to a time for five grandchildren: Collins, Sofia, Clint, Stella and Henry, growing up among the hills of Colorado’s plain.

One generation builds on another. “We think,” Scott says, “that future is pretty bright.”