Throughout all of this, I have emphasized flexibility. Flexibility in livestock numbers is also very important for a number of reasons.
First, if you ranch in the southwestern United States, you should always plan on it not raining because the chances are that it won’t. There is a commonly overlooked (or ignored) fact when going into a drought–the sooner you de-stock, the less you will have to de-stock. Think about it. You have a choice. You can either get rid of one animal today, or you can get rid of 180 animals in 180 days from now. This is because that one cow will use one cow-day’s worth of forage each and every day for the 180 days.
Furthermore, prolonged drought may induce a flood of livestock onto the market and have devastating effects on prices. Therefore, if you de-stock early, you are likely to beat the masses to the market and be able to sell at a higher price.
So how do you decide how many to get rid of? That’s easy. You work out a forage budget. Here is how it might work. You know that most of the annual precipitation in your area comes in late summer/early fall. Therefore, you know that the forage crop that you have on the ground at the end of that period is all you can count on having until this same time next fall. So, you must take a forage inventory.
To do this select an appropriate area (or areas if need be) for sampling. Decide how you are going to sample the area and how many samples you wish to take. Assume you decide to take off walking across the area and stop every 100 paces and take a sample. You also believe that 25 of these samples will be enough to give you a good idea of how much forage you have in this year’s inventory.
When you come to your first stop, you envision a square area on the ground. Ask yourself; is there enough forage in this square area to feed one of my animals for one day? (Note that you would adjust this for the type of animal you are running–e.g. 600 lb steers, 1,000 lb cows, sheep, etc.). If the answer is no, then increase the size of the area until you can say, yes, this will comfortably feed one of my animals for one day. You then measure the size of the area you have delineated.
You then repeat this process 25 times. When you finish, take an average. Let’s assume that this average turns out to be 3,580 square feet. In other words, it will take 3,580 square feet of this year’s forage crop to feed one of my kind of animals for one day. (Note that this is this year and not some mythical “average”. Also, it is your animal not relative to some abstract unit of measure like Animal Unit.)
Now you know that your ranch has 30,000 acres and there is 43,560 square feet in each acre so you have a total of 1,306,800,000 square feet in the ranch. Therefore you have 365,028 head days of forage available (1,306,800,000 square feet/ 3,580 square feet per head per day). So, this means that you can feed 365,028 head for one day or, more realistically, 1,000.08 head until this time next year (365,028 head days/365 days per year). If you are running steers, for example, you might want to take on 2,000 head for 180 days—whatever. In any event, right now is the time to get rid of any excess numbers and/or arrange to acquire more.
Once the cattle are on the ground, you must continuously monitor. If things just don’t seem to look right, take another forage inventory, do the math and adjust numbers accordingly.
Note that if you do this every year (or as often as you need to should you get an extra bonus rain), you will never be caught short of forage and forced to sell on a depressed market. Nor will you ever get stuck with excess forage that actually represents a lost opportunity.
Source: Transcript of a Tape Recorded Session Made at Alan Savory and Stan Parson’s Rancher School. Albuquerque, NM. Spring 1982.
Dr Jimmy T (Gunny) LaBaume [send him mail] is President and CEO of Land & Livestock International, Inc.
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- The Value of Holistic Herding (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)
- Cell Grazing: Part II. Range Rest (for those who are really into that sort of thing) (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)
- Cell Grazing: Part III. Why More Pastures? (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)
- Cell Grazing: Part IV. Stock Density vs. Stocking Rate. (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)
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- Managing the Ranch as a Business: The Brittleness Scale (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)
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- Managing the Ranch as a Business: The Role of Time (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)
- The Myth that is Conventional Range Management (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)