What is in this article?:
- Bob Price, Burwell, NE, Wins National Stocker Award
- Planned grazing is the key
- Refining the grazing system
- Start by knowing true costs
Planned discipline begets flexibility and stocker profit for Bob Price and Gracie Creek Ranch, BEEF magazine’s 2012 National Stocker Award honoree.
Refining the grazing system
When the family arrived almost four decades ago, the system basically rotated among 2-3 pastures. Intensive grazing and a more holistic approach to ranch management came next. Ultimately, they arrived at a carefully planned and disciplined scheme that rotates four groups of cattle through 100 pastures.
“We were on the right track, we just needed to refine the grazing system,” Price says. Rather than eyeball the grass and decide when to rotate cattle, Price’s rotation is based on a plan generated with software called The Grazing Manager. Instead of using animal units as the measuring stick, the software is based on grazing demand days, which adjusts for maintenance requirements of the animals based on body weight as well as the forage demand for desired gain.
Before their grazing year of May 1 to April 30 begins, the software allows them to estimate forage production in each pasture based on historic growing conditions, and plot a rotation schedule and stocking rate based on the cattle to be grazed. Once the year starts, the plan is updated and adjusted based on current growing conditions and actual cattle weights. When the schedule says to move cattle, they do.
“You make small adjustments early so you don’t have to make big changes later on,” DeGroff explains.
This summer’s drought may offer the strongest testament to the system’s power.
“It’s been a very testy summer but the system is made to deal with situations like this,” Price emphasizes. “If you take care of the land, it will take care of you. We’ve worked hard on conservation practices and a planned grazing system. We’ve been able to stockpile adequate forage to operate as we normally do and we’re also in a position to market hay. The landscape is more drought-tolerant. We have a lot of flexibility built into the system.”
Daughter Lindsey points out that her dad always says profit and conservation go hand in hand. “A year like this one gives us lots of confidence in the system,” she adds.
This system is counterintuitive for many. For one, the notion of leaving perfectly good grass standing during the growing season seems bonkers to some. For another, though the plan is meticulous and requires discipline, it means you don’t have to be as exacting.
“With this deferred system, you have more flexibility,” DeGroff says. “You’re not trying to squeeze every ounce of gain out of every day.”
Flexibility is why the Price family has always been such a champion of the stocker business.
“With a cow-calf herd, if the market gives you an opportunity, you don’t have a chance to react to it,” Price says. “In addition, labor is getting to be a bigger issue and you have to figure out how to manage with less of it.” That favors stockers and yearlings, too.
In fact, think of the most labor-intensive jobs associated with ranching, such as haying and building fence; Price hires others to do it. By doing so, he saves money because specialized equipment isn’t weighing on the balance sheet. It also allows him and his ranch crew to have more time for the cattle.