For several years, Brian Rosencrans, Powers Lake, ND, was a participant in the Integrated Resource Management (IRM) program offered through North Dakota State University (NDSU). Unlike some other participants though, he's since changed his IRM focus.

Rosencrans coupled IRM with the Adult Farm Business Management program — a combination, he says, that broke out the “nuts and bolts” of his farm financial management efforts.

“When I was done I knew where every dollar came from and where it went,” says Rosencrans. “The IRM aspect of it and the roundtable discussions worked very well. It forces a guy to get some stuff done he might not otherwise do, or think of doing.”

Rosencrans ended up relying very heavily on his Extension people — the local county agent, livestock specialists and Harlan Hughes (then the NDSU Extension livestock economist). And while the “number-crunching” worked well, what he really needed, Rosencrans admits, was a management “mentor.”

Along with Hughes, he had worked with an older, successful local rancher with a similar farm/ranch operation who was in a position to offer good advice.

“He had great input on what could work and not work for my operation, and what I could do better,” Rosencrans says.

But when his neighbor switched from raising commercial cattle to a purebred focus, the mentorship slowly evaporated, Rosencrans says. And when Hughes retired from NDSU a few years ago, Rosencrans fell out of IRM.

Valuable Lessons

Still, Rosencrans says he learned some valuable lessons that have stuck with him. One of the most valuable was how to break his operation into enterprises.

“It helps you understand how to look at your operation from a standpoint of the different profit centers you have — and shows you which ones are making money and which ones aren't,” he says.

Today, he considers the cow-calf segment apart from the yearling segment. As an example, he “buys” calves (on paper) for his yearling profit center at market price from his cow-calf profit center.

He also breaks out the replacement heifer development profit center of the ranch, as well as his hay production and pasture profit centers, and any other cropping rotations that might impact or contribute to the livestock enterprises.

Rosencrans says he increased his herd size 20% with better range management as a result of the IRM program.

But, after a couple of dry years, Rosencrans is back down to about 100 cows, some which can be attributed to last fall's good cull-cow market.

“I culled pretty deep. With the price of hay, I didn't see any reason to keep any questionable cows,” he says. “It might not be a bad time to buy cows now. We're sitting with a lot of snow and it looks like these cow prices are looking better for re-stocking.”

Ranchers like Rosencrans say the IRM management approach, in the end, doesn't take much more time to install then any other management technique.

Another advantage with IRM is that it keeps the manager disciplined and focused on the task at hand.

Rosencrans adds that IRM will help a great deal in the coming months as he works to manage around the cattle markets.

“It's a wait-and-see game right now. At least I will know my cost of production and my breakeven selling prices,” he says. “That's a huge advantage when it comes to marketing — and it helps me sleep at night.”