Stocking Rate Rant

A big deep breath, then a long sigh….

What these conventional range management clowns did is exactly the type of thing I have ranted a lot about lately (See: The Myth of Light, Moderate and Heavy Grazing, The Myth that is Conventional Range Management, and And the Myths Live on: Thoughts on the 2010 Meeting of the Texas Section of the Society for Range Management).

And the type of statistical analysis they used is exactly the multivariate analysis used to “model” complex economic and ecological systems that I ranted about yesterday in Science for Radical Environmentalists and Other Dummies.

And these are men on welfare. Rather than using food stamps — sorry: a free food debit card — they work for a tax-funded state university. They owe their income to people with badges and guns who go to taxpayers and announce: “You will pay these guys’ salaries, or you will go to jail.” They pay. These guys prosper. And with tenure they will be paid with lifetime welfare checks in exchange for 9 hours a week of lectures, 8 months a year.

How do I know all of that? I used to be one of them and am openly apologetic.

By Dave Pratt

A Ranching For Profit School alumnus sent me a paper published by the Society for Range Management on calculating the optimum stocking rate. The authors crunched 14 variables through 1o equations to reach the conclusion that the optimum stocking rate is somewhere between a low rate that maximizes per head performance and a higher rate that maximizes production per acre. Nowhere in the variables or formulas did they account for carrying capacity, the value of leaving cover, the influence of stockmanship and forage quality on animal performance, or many other things that impact stocking rate and animal performance. The authors acknowledge that they ignored “elements that may be important.”

That may be important?!? How can you have a credible conversation about stocking rate without mentioning carrying capacity? How can you have an intelligent discussion about animal performance without addressing stockmanship or forage quality?

Animal performance is not just a matter of the quantity of forage available in a paddock, it is also an issue of forage quality. Animals tend to eat the most palatable and nutritious plants and plant parts the first few days they are in a paddock. The longer animals stay in a paddock, the worse the quality of the remaining feed, the lower their intake and the poorer the resulting performance. That’s one reason why animal performance can suffer even when there is plenty of feed left in a paddock. It is also why producers using cell grazing keep the graze periods short. Short graze periods improve the quality of available forage and the quantity animals consume. That results in better stock performance. Of course moving animals more often means that stockmanship skills are even more important than on a conventionally run ranch.

Once we’ve shortened the graze periods, increasing the stocking rate should have very little impact on performance until the stocking rate exceeds the carrying capacity. At that point you’ve got bigger issues to worry about than poor stock performance, namely the long term damage to the productivity of your land from overstocking.

You don’t need 14 variables and 10 formulas to tell you how to stock your ranch. You need to know the carrying capacity. Of course carrying capacity is a moving target. It changes annually and seasonally. So there are two big questions we all have to answer to determine the optimum stocking rate:

1. What is my carrying capacity? 2. How should I use that capacity?

Most ranchers agree that it is pretty important to know how much money they have in the bank, how many cattle they have in their herd, and how many bales they have heading into winter. It’s surprising how little concern we seem to have for knowing how much grass we have in our pastures. Yet it is that grass that reduces the need for hay in the stack, that supports the animals in our herd and ultimately puts money in our bank account. At the Ranching For Profit School we teach a quick and simple method for estimating carrying capacity in every paddock every year. Armed with this information our alumni can determine how big a herd they can run and how long they can graze without feeding hay.

The question on how to best use the capacity depends on the type of forage you have (e.g. breeding feed, growing feed or finishing feed). It also depends on your overhead cost structure, access to markets, drought risk, and a lot of other considerations. For year-round grazing operations, at least one seasonal enterprise is essential.

You can try to use the “expert’s” formulas to figure out how to stock your ranch if you want to, although how you do it without knowing how much grass you have is mystery to me. But I’m advising Ranching For Profit School Alumni to stick with the basics and simply match the stocking rate to the carrying capacity.

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About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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1 Response to Stocking Rate Rant

  1. “The longer animals stay in a paddock, the worse the quality of the remaining feed, the lower their intake and the poorer the resulting performance. ” This sentence was beautifully constructed, simple but it was very effective at communicating an idea I don’t think I’ve thought of in words.


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