Book Review of Healthy Land, Happy Families and Profitable Businesses

Bookmark and Share

Cover with Sky added 1200x864Healthy Land, Happy Families, and Profitable Businesses: Essays to Improve Your Land, Your Life and Your Bottom Line
By David Pratt

The focus of Healthy Land, Happy Families, and Profitable Businesses can be distilled down to the one sentence that is on the back jacket cover: “It doesn’t matter if you hit the bull’s eye if you’re aiming at the wrong target!” That sentiment may sound familiar to holistic managers, which isn’t surprising given that Dave Pratt runs Ranching for Profit, the school started by Stan Parson, one-time business partner of Allan Savory, founder of Holistic Management. There are many principle and curriculum similarities between Ranching for Profit and Holistic Management which is why many holistic managers have also taken a Ranching for Profit course as well. So it was with great interest that I read Dave’s new book to see what he would focus on.

This book is actually a compilation of Dave’s ProfitTips which is a newsletter he sends out to Ranching for Profit alumni. These 2-4 page essays are great because they articulate the key principle or concept succinctly. This book is chockfull of great information for the beginning or experienced rancher.

As noted in the title, the book touches on land, families, and finances. The first section on “Healthy Land” is all about grazing planning, animal performance, considerations of production systems (such as ranching with nature, and why you need to really keep healthy land in the forefront of your operation.

The next section is about “Happy Families.” In this section he focuses a lot on how the business can influence family life and how to work effectively with employees. Some of the later essays are particularly helpful regarding succession planning and helping the older generation really understand what they must do to begin transferring a healthy business.

The last section, “Profitable Businesses,” focuses on the critical issues of how to generate profit from a ranching business. Dave explores a variety of issues including diversification and opportunities, and a lot about how to maximize the resources you already have so you can get more profit per unit on the current resource base rather than expanding that resource base and losing margin. There’s even a great glossary at the end of the book that helps define any terms that aren’t familiar to the reader.

If you already know these principles, this is a great review. If you are trying to get these key concepts across to an intern or employee, this is a quick and easy way to start the conversation so you can delve deeper into how to more effectively graze your animals, define job responsibilities and outcomes, plan for profit, or any number of key management conversations that need to happen on pretty much any ranch. If you are looking for a book that will help you work on your business, commit to knowing your production finances, work on your relationships, and structure your operation effectively, Healthy Land, Happy Families, and Profitable Businesses will get you started on the basics and inspired to create healthy land, happy families, and profitable businesses.

To order this book, go to: www.ranchingforprofit.com

KTS Farm and NODPA Field Days

Bookmark and Share

KTS Farm Day participants exploring forage management options

 

 Open Gate Farm Day Report

When the heavy fog burned off by 9 am on September 26th at KTS Farm in Mansfield, PA a crowd of almost 40 participants had the opportunity to hear about how Kress Simpson and Mike Geiser now divide management and assets on KTS Farm, an organic dairy. After an introduction about how Holistic Management has influenced Kress’ decision on KTS the group headed out to the field to see the result of the grazing planning and implementation. Jim Weaver from Tioga County Planning and Troy Bishopp from Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District helped with the forage assessment activity which prompted a great conversation about forage quality and management.

Jim Weaver, Kress Simpson, and Dave Johnson sharing forage management goals and principles.

The group then moved to the New Zealand swing style parlor to learn how that has made a major difference in labor needs and quality of life on the farm.  In the afternoon, the conversations continued at the Mansfield Hose Company Hall as Kress shared how he developed the management transfer of his farm to Mike Geiser as well as some of the asset transfer while also supporting his son, Alec, in beginning his own dairy. This presentation was followed by a grain crop enterprise analysis presentation by Dave Johnson of NODPA. The last part of the afternoon was a whole farm goalsetting presentation with exercises by Ann Adams, HMI’s Director of Community Services.

KTS milking parlor

Evaluations of the event showed that 75% of participants intend to complete a whole farm goal and 80% intend to change management practices. 85% of participants expanded their network and 90% would recommend program to others. In total 3,820 acres will be influenced by this program.

 

Topic Covered Percent Change in Knowledge/Confidence
How to use Holistic Management to   help with succession planning

55%

How to use goal setting and testing   questions to determine priorities

34%

Ability to create a grazing plan

55%

Ability to determine plant recovery

50%

Ability to determine forage inventory

50%

Ability to increase forage productivity

50%

Ability to create a whole farm goal

65%

Ability to test decisions

50%

Intend to create or modify grazing plan

45%

 

Troy Bishopp discussing management of Queen Anne’s lace

Thanks to Kress and Tammy Simpson and Mike Geiser of KTS Farm for hosting the farm day and to our grantors CHS Foundation and Simply Organic Fund for their generous support and to NODPA for this opportunity for collaboration. Thanks also to Doug Wright of Dairymaster Parlors for supplying the morning refreshments for the day.

Testimonials

“Well done in a short amount of time.”

“Rewarding. Time well spent.”

 

Open Gate: Creekside Meadows Farm Day

Bookmark and Share

Some of the participants of the Creekside Meadow Farm Open Gate

 

 

It was a cold, overcast September day in Deruyter, New York at Creekside Meadow Farm, but that didn’t keep over 50 people from attending HMI’s Open Gate On-Farm Day.

 

 

Trica, Matt, and Cameron Park

After introductions at the farm store by HMI’s Director of Community Services, Ann Adams, New York Beginning Farmer and Holistic Management  Certified Educator, Erica Frenay talked about how Holistic Management had helped her family grow their farm. Tricia Park then told the story of Creekside Meadow Farm’s growth and how Holistic Management had helped the Park family when she was trained in HMI’s Beginning Women Farmer Training Program which was funded by the USDA/NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

Beginning Women Farmer Erica Frenay

After those case studies most of the crowd headed out on hay wagons to do a reading the land exercise with Holistic Management Certified Educator Phil Metzger and grazing specialist Troy Bishopp of Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District. Ann Adams led a value-based goal-setting exercise for other participants. In the afternoon she led an enterprise analysis exercise while some participants went back out into the field to do a forage assessment and crop problem-solving exercise. Everyone reconvened at the store for a Q&A about marketing and then broke into small groups to do some peer problem-solving for each participant.

 

 

Chickens are a part of the multi-species grazing at Creekside Meadow Farm

Evaluations from the event showed that 100% of the participants who completed the evaluation expanded their network and 95% of them will change management practices as a result of the program. Also, 95% of the participants would recommend this program to others. 66% of the participants intend to modify or develop a grazing plan and 57% will modify or develop a whole farm goal. These participants manage 1,279 acres of land that will be influenced by this program.

Topic Covered Percent Change in Knowledge
The value of grazing planning

21%

How to assess forage

38%

How to complete an enterprise analysis

35%

How to integrate livestock and cropping

29%

How to improve grazing practices

31%

 

Thanks to our host farmers Tricia, Matt, and Cameron Park, and to our co-organizer NY NOFA, and to our grantor CHS Foundation, and all our supporters: NY GLCI, Madison Soil and Water Conservation District, DeRuyter Farm and Garden Co-operative, Fertrell, Cornell University Cooperative Extension Madison County, Central New York RC&D, Kelley Meats, Wholeshare.com, and Devine Gardens Vermicompost, for making this event possible.

Testimonials

“Excellent hosts and a detailed tour of their farm and marketing.”

“Very informative and well thought out program.”

Texas class of Beginning Women Farmers Retreats

Bookmark and Share

A social and educational retreat at her lovely desert oasis was offered by Alice Ball Strunk to her classmates in the 2012-2013 class of HMI’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers: Women in Texas (aka Beginning Women Farmers or just BWF).  Alice planned for great food, free time on the river, spring or land, and teaching tours of the ranch with legends Joe David Ross, Steve Nelle and John Karger.

Hudspeth River Ranch is not really new to Alice, she grew up going to the ranch as often as she could get away from her busy life in San Antonio. Her mother, Claudia Ball, well known in ranching circles as a dynamic force and early adopter of Holistic Management, inherited the ranch from her buddy and grandfather Claude Hudspeth. With Claudia’s passing in 2011, Alice now holds the reins with her husband, Billy Bob Strunk.

It was Alice’s idea to invite the younger generation in hopes some of the land loving and ranching lessons learned would inspire them to greater stewardship wherever they landed. About 50 people attended the 4-day event with about half being in the class and the other half being husbands, children and other friends.

Susana Canseco and Memo. You are never too young for learning

Thursday was relaxed and simple with time on the river and a drive around the ranch. It was topped off with a fabulous goat dinner.

Friday featured neighbor and advisor, Joe David Ross DVM, his sister, our mentor, and soil scientist Betsy Ross and the rest of the group discussing fencing, cattle and sheep conformation, how to slow and catch water on the slopes with small rock dams, useful and dangerous plants, and other tips on a variety of topics. We were impressed with Billy Bob’s grassfed hamburgers.

Joe David Ross addresses the group from among the many wildlife mounts from Claudia Ball’s many years at Hudspeth River Ranch. He created posters of land management techniques from photos on his own place and others he has visited.

Pam Mitchell, Jaye Henneke and Lauri Celella check out the map of the ranch

The breeding program at Hudspeth River Ranch is heading for larger percentage hair sheep as they cross their old Rambouillet blood with Dorper and St. Croix. Joe David said to look for wide, square space between the front legs so you know that ewe can carry large healthy twins and triplets. Fencing along the sides of these steep hills was another topic of discussion.

This group of select sheep came to the river to lamb.

Relaxing in the shady flood plain

Driving to the top of some of the rocky hills, the group learned techniques for slowing the rainwater and retaining the soil such as low rock dams across the slope.

Twinleaf Senna is pretty, but poison that affects the muscles of livestock, including the heart. Cows and goats particularly have a hard time with it. A good mineral program for the animals makes it less of a problem.

There is a surprising amount of food for livestock and wildlife in this desert upland.

Joe David used the pet dairy cow who was feeding the doggied baby lambs to teach us what to look for in a beef animal.

Now the challenge is to judge this group of wary heifers and choose the 2 you would cull from your beef herd. There were some tips on low stress stockmanship and on horse handling from Joe David, the veterinarian,

Saturday we enjoyed a day with Steve Nelle, conservationist consultant, riparian specialist and primo reader of the land. We visited a couple of riparian areas where the spring-fed creeks joins the river. Steve taught us how a river works and the plants that help it flood in a constructive way rather than the destruction of losing soils and eroding banks.  We also went to an upland area where we learned how to begin learning to read the land – learn about the plants that grow there – and learned a technique for estimating forage.

Water is the most precious or resources. Learning riparian function makes it all the more amazing.

Steve Nelle points out Eastern Gamagrass, one of the best riparian grasses due to the sturdy network of its roots. The young trees and big bunch grasses in the floodplain slow the water during a flood and cause it to drop its load of sediment.

The group enjoys the cool location while Steve explains.

The plants in and around this spring keep the water clean and the banks healthy.

Alice and Billy Bob took us to another area on the river. This time the flood slowing mechanism was sycamore and bushy bluestem. Steve identified many plants that work together to protect the banks.

Alice and Steve take a close look at a sedge under the sycamores.

Now in the upland, the group looks at the diversity of plants and learns to estimate forage.

9.6 square foot plot is the key.
A radius of 21 inches will scribe a circle with a diameter of 42 inchs or an area of 9.6 square feet.
Clip and weigh grass in grams and multiply times 10 to get pounds per acre.
If you choose to clip only half a circle, multiply grams times 20.
If choose to use a square made of pvc pipe or other material, use a square of 37.2 inches per side (inside dimension) to get the 9.6 square feet
If you choose to use a round “hooloa hoop” type of ring, then use 132 inches (11 feet) of flexible pipe to form a ring of 42 inch diameter.
Remember to convert green grass weight to air dry grass weight. There are numerous conversion charts available. The one we use is found in Exhibit 4-2 on page 4ex-2 of the attached Range and Pasture Handbook. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CC4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nrcs.usda.gov%2Fwps%2Fportal%2Fnrcs%2Fdetailfull%2Fnational%2Flanduse%2Frangepasture%2F%3Fcid%3Dstelprdb1043084&ei=0DKdUdW8CMSvyQHH4oDICw&usg=AFQjCNEXyn9qCnX4-Gw8-99jJPW0sigi-A&sig2=hHWbXbNrQ1Hs782ztltNcA
It would give totally the wrong answer if you used green weight instead of air dry conversion (like I did at HRR)
If enough clipping and weighing is done on different parts of the ranch and if it is representative and not biased, then a manager can get a good feel for what his or her ranch will produce. Obviously it varies from year to year but the more clipping is done the better the decisions can be made. Generally we do not count annuals since they are unreliable.
Also important to note the season of clipping and whether it is early in the growing season or late. If you only clip once a year, best time is late Oct.
If you clip in an area that has been grazed, you will get a different answer so best to try to clip in places that have not been grazed to get a more true picture of production.
The stocking rate calculation is based on the standard 25% harvest efficiency and an AU consumption of about 10,000 pounds per year (air dry basis).
40,000 pounds divided by pounds per acre will give you the stocking rate in acres per AU. This is standard range management thinking and may not jive with HMI or Savory thinking.
So for example if a ranch in western EP produces an average of 800 pounds per acre, the appropriate stocking rate would be 40,000 divided by 800 or 50 acres per AU. This happens to be just about what West Ranch was using before the wildfire.
This clipping exercise is complicated when you add in browse and browsing animals. Much different procedure for that.

 

After lunch John Karger taught us much about birds of prey and how to mitigate losses we blame on these birds. John is Executive Director of Last Chance Forever, a bird of prey conservancy in San Antonio. His wife and beautiful assistant Dr. Melissa Hill helped him fly for our enjoyment a bay winged hawk, peregrine falcon and a hybred falcon. They even let us experience the birds flying onto our wrist.

John, Leo and Melissa explain the differences in various birds of prey.

The bay wink hawk flew back and forth to the delight of the observers.

Beautiful creature

John encouraged participants to experience the thrill of flying the birds. Lauri Celella gives it a try.

Progress was made on next year’s BWF class as well, through a meeting of the trainer trainees with their instructor, coordinator and mentor (aka the 3 Peggys) and recruiting Claire’s friend Anne to apply for the 2013-2014 class. It was good to be gathering again, renewing the bond as we learned and played together.

Pam Mitchell and Katherine Ottmers wrap up the day in the “jacuzzi”

Greg Judy and Green Pastures Farm–Increasing Profitability through Improving Soil Biology

Bookmark and Share

Greg Judy leading a grazing workshop

 

Few folks involved in holistic planned grazing or grass-finished beef would argue with the statement that Greg Judy is a leader in the field of sustainable ranching. His grazing practices have resulted in improved soils on his home farm as well as the land he leases. He’s built his business to the point where he could quit his town job (one of the happiest days of his life), and even provide 2 paid internships a year at his farm. His business model is so successful that he has developed a consulting business helping others achieve the same level of success, and through his on-farm education (including a yearly grazing school) he has reached approximately 5,000 inspired producers.

What more could he want?

Even healthier soil!

This is what Greg Judy’s pastures looked like in July 2012 in the middle of the drought when he destocked to help keep soil health and maximize profit.

Surviving a Drought

Greg and Jan Judy have a home farm of 250 acres near Rucker, Missouri. With an additional 750 acres of leased farms, Greg is managing a total of 1000 acres of land (600 of which is pasture) near Rucker, Missouri. They raise South Poll cattle, along with sheep, horses, goats, pigs, and chickens. The cattle are 100% grass-finished on the perennial grasses and forbs grown on the farm. Greg is known for his high-density, mob-grazing techniques that have moved organic matter from as low as .5% on some of these played out soils to 5%. But, the drought of 2012 put those practices to the test.

“Our Holistic Management training helped us survive that drought in good shape,” notes Greg. “We had some rain the first week of May, but then it didn’t rain until the end of August. All my neighbors were feeding hay from July through September, but we took the necessary steps so we wouldn’t have to do that. Staring on June 1st, we were monitoring daily to see if we had any regrowth after grazing. But it was clear there was 0% regrowth. So by July 1st we put our revised holistic grazing plan into action. We combined both our grass-finishing herd with our cow/calf herd so we had one herd to manage and increase our recovery times. We also culled our cull cows and sent some grassfed steers a little early. We also got a really good price for our heifers. We knew we could keep our next year’s heifers when we had more forage. Those 2 actions (combining herds and destocking) allowed us to continue at the same stock density but increase our summer recovery periods from our normal 80 days to 170 days, and we preserved our cow herd.”

 

These actions resulted in Greg still having a profitable grazing year despite one of the worst droughts in that area, and still have stockpiled grass to graze through the winter and begin 2013 as a profitable grazing year. “The animal performance was incredible,” says Greg. “We can have washy grasses with a 38-42 inch rainfall. But, because we had less rain (13 inches), we ended up having really nutrient-dense grasses. So this winter we were able to have fat cows even with the calf still on her. The cows didn’t need as much feed because the forage was so nutrient dense. That helped us stockpile even more grass. They were only taking the top 1/3 of the plant.” So when Hurricane Isaac dropped 6 inches of rain in 10 days at the end of August, Greg’s pastures responded with a quick green up that helped him increase his stockpile.  “We were able to get through the winter on that grass despite some big snows and cold weather,” says Greg.

The Next Frontier

But this spring, after monitoring his pastures, Greg was looking for other ideas to improve soil fertility. “I’m happy about all the improvements I’ve made with the cows and the grazing,” says Greg. “But, I’m still seeing more bare ground and weeds then I’m happy with. So I went to a workshop at the Rodale Institue by Elaine Ingham to learn about the soil food web and compost tea, and I’m so excited about the possibility of taking this land to the next level! The idea is to use compost tea to introduce aerobic bacteria to the anaerobic soil we still have. While we’ve done a lot for the soil, it’s still struggling so we see plants like ragweed.

“I figure it’s a pretty low cost experiment for a huge potential return. We’ll invest in a microscope and a brewer and a sprayer for the ATV. One pound of properly made compost can make 300 gallons of compost tea. You only need 30 gallons/acre of the tea if the soil is completely broken. We’ll use the material from the farm (the hay, leaves, wood chips, and manure) because it already has the bacteria adapted for this area. We may also try some compost from a Soil Food Web compost producer nearby.

“The key is you have to have your soil tested to see what is missing and then have the compost tested to make sure that it has the missing ingredients. Once we get the soil biology right, I think we might see the growth double, and the grass will be even more nutrient dense so breeding percentages go up as well as weight gains. We’ll also have more diversity of plants as the soil becomes more aerobic. There were pictures in Dr. Ingham’s presentation of prairie grasses with 18-foot roots! They had a picture of a 3-month old annual rye grass that had been grazed to 1-inch tall three times during the course of its life. The roots were over 4 feet tall!

“What that proved to me was that roots don’t die back when a plant is grazed if the soil is healthy. The plant just exudes food for the soil life through the roots. It still maintains its root structure and can still access water and minerals below ground to grow more forage above ground! This opens up a whole new way of looking at grazing, particularly in drought-prone areas. The compost tea can improve any soil, anywhere, so the possibilities are amazing! Since land is the biggest expense in ranching, if you can grow double your forage with compost tea, you’ve just bought yourself a whole new ranch for very little money.

“So we’re going to take our soil samples of some of our worst areas and get the compost ratios right to correct the soil biology. We can use that same compost for the better areas as well. You get the soil biology right, then you don’t have to add inputs. You don’t even have to add the compost tea again if you keep grazing right. You can’t beat that for a low-input solution!

“I learned some things at that workshop that stopped me in my tracks—like that the soil microbes are happiest under about 12 inches of snow. You need free-flowing water in the soil, so a nice moist soil with a blanket of snow for insulation makes those microbes happy.”

Greg is already sharing this information with his interns and planning the various test areas they will begin trialing the compost tea treatment. “I used to just want to focus on the cattle and grass,” says Greg. “But, I’ve seen an explosion of people recently who are 50 or older, who want to get into farming and do something real. They may have gotten burnt in the stock market and want to invest in land and animals and learn how to grow food for their family and their neighbors. They need help setting up their farm and understanding cattle genetics that work for grass-finished animals, and how to graze those animals. I like helping those folks make that transition successfully. It’s rewarding work.”

Greg also likes helping train the interns and helps them get jobs once they have completed their internship. “I’ve got a list of folks who are happy to hire any intern we’ve trained,” says Greg. His intern program focuses on helping the interns learn the basics of grazing, farm design, and animal management, then he encourages them to work for someone else for 5 years to really begin to hone their craft before stepping out and getting a farm of their own. “It takes 10 years to get really good at this business,” says Greg.

Greg is happy selling his cattle in wholesale semi-loads to businesses like Thousand Hills Cattle Company because he’s learned how to grow beef with low-inputs so he is able to be profitable even at wholesale prices. “Ian Mitchell-Innes told me I needed to focus on only a few things,” says Greg. “If I can raise cattle at a low enough cost, I can let someone else do the marketing and still make a good profit.”

So with a business profitable even in drought, Greg Judy is still looking for the next way to improve the soil health and business sustainability. “We’re also going to learn about Permaculture from Mark Shepherd. We want to grow more perennial crops like pawpaws, persimmons, and acorns that the cattle and hogs can forage on and improve our ability to capture more solar energy. Ever since we started focusing on the soil health, we realized there was more we could do, and we needed more tools. I figure I’ve got 20 years of real energy left in me. I want to really make this place take off!”

Stay tuned for results from Greg’s experiment in a future issue of IN PRACTICE. To learn more about Greg Judy and his 2013 Grazing School in Missouri with Ian Mitchell-Innes on May 9-11th, go to: http://www.greenpasturesfarm.net/index.php.  Greg will be sharing this information about the soil food web as part of that grazing school. For links about Dr. Elaine Ingham and the Soil Food Web go to: http://www.soilfoodweb.com/

 

Comeback Farms on Sale

Bookmark and Share

 HMI is now offering Comeback Farms for $27 through the month of April!

 

Read our book review to learn more about how Greg used grazing to rejuvenate pastures and profits!

 

 

 

Book Review

Comeback Farms: Rejuvenating Soils, Pastures and Profits with Livestock Grazing Management

By Greg Judy

GreenParkPress

2008

277 pages

 

I followed Greg Judy’s career from when I read his articles in the Stockman Grassfarmer and listening to him speak at conferences about the results he was getting on the ground from the Holistic Planned Grazing he was doing after taking a Holistic Management class with Certified Educator Kirk Gadzia. When HMI had its International Gathering in 2007, I knew we needed to get Greg as a speaker to talk about his experience of moving from Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) to Holistic Planned Grazing. When he contacted us about his book Comeback Farms, I was pleased to see how he would capture all his learning in one book.

Many folks are hesitant to try Holistic Planned Grazing because of what they think it entails. Greg’s book is infectious, not only because of his enthusiasm and positive attitude, but because he articulates the basics in a very simple way, demonstrating to readers that it is possible to make these changes without a lot of infrastructure investment.

While Greg learned a huge amount from his class with Kirk, his next key learning experience was with Holistic ManagementEducator Ian Mitchell-Innes from South Africa. In fact, Greg dedicates Comeback Farms to Ian because as he notes, “Ian really woke me up to the additional opportunities we all have on our farms if we will learn this method of grazing management.”

One of Greg’s biggest learnings from Ian was the landscaping versus animal performance issue. With “landscaping”—using livestock to improve land heath—it is critical to determine the most appropriate time to push the animal’s health while working more aggressively to improve land health. As Greg notes, you can use dry cows that don’t have the same nutritional needs whenever possible to do the heavy work of land health improvement, but if you have a cow/calf herd, don’t challenge the cows in their last two months of pregnancy which is when 80% of the calf’s growth is happening. Working on keeping the cow at a 6.5 body condition score is critical to her health and her calf’s.

Greg offers a lot of valuable technical advice which he has learned through trial and error, assisting his readers so they don’t have to repeat his mistakes. But best of all, he demonstrates that there is always something to learn and ways to have fun while farming. Even his few challenges with leases he notes have taught him valuable lessons.

If you want to learn the nuts and bolts of beginning or transitioning to a grass-based livestock operation from start to finish, get a copy of Comeback Farms. You’ll even learn that cows have four legs and can walk (read the book and you’ll get the joke).

To purchase this book on sale for $27 go to, http://holisticmanagement.org/store/books/

Book Review of How to Not Go Broke Ranching

Bookmark and Share

How to Not Go Broke Ranching:

Things I Learned the Hard Way in Fifty Years of Ranching

By Walt Davis

© 2011

 

 

There are few people who have more on the ground knowledge of ranching than Walt Davis. As an educator he has been generous in sharing that knowledge and now he’s made that knowledge more accessible to all by publishing a book. How to Not Go Broke Ranching: Things I Learned the Hard Way in Fifty Years of Ranching provides context for ranching today as well as those lessons of Walt’s he references in the title. Lastly, he talks about where the ranching industry is today and how to pay attention to the factors that contribute to the profitability and stability of ranching and what to do about them.

You may find some points that have been pointed out before in this publication and others (i.e. planned grazing is good for you, your animals, your land, and your wallet), but the devil is in the detail. Walt steps you through some of the key aspects of what makes for successful planned grazing and there’s nothing like shared experience to help you lessen a steep learning curve.

This book has been a long time coming—Walt began thinking about this book when he began his management consulting business in 1974. Over the years his knowledge and experience on both his own ranch and with others has grown so that what you get with How to Not Go Broke Ranching, is really more than just Walt’s 50 years of ranching in Texas and Oklahoma.

One of the aspects of this book that I appreciated the most was Walt’s evolution as a rancher. He started out doing conventional ranching and was open to new knowledge that would result in better returns. This is the hallmark of an astute business person and a lifelong learner. Paradigms such as all predators are bad are hard to shift, but Walt talks about his experience with coyotes and how his management toward predators has changed over the years. He asks the question: “To how many jackrabbits and packrats do you assure long life when you shoot a coyote?”  The issue of unintended consequences articulated here can be most successfully avoided by another philosophical approach of Walt’s: “First do no harm; good advice for physicians and ranchers.” When it comes to the war on weeds Walt’s advice is: “The answer is not how to kill weeds but rather how to change conditions so that forages can compete effectively with the weeds.”

This shift in a broader perspective is linked to his expanded interest in biodiversity and agriculture’s place in nature. As Walt puts it: “Agriculture should be the art and science of promoting life so we can harvest some of the surplus for our own use.” This book is a training manual on how to do just that.

Every page has a succinct and clear nugget of advice and an explanation of how Walt learned to accomplish that outcome and how you can, too. Whether you have a large spread or a small ranch, if you run livestock, How to Not Grow Broke Ranching will help you improve your long term profitability through managing toward a healthy soil-plant-animal complex.

To purchase Walt’s book go to http://holisticmanagement.org/store/books/

The Epitome of Holistic

Bookmark and Share

In an ever-changing world full of trials and tribulations, the James Ranch continues to provide an exceptional example of a truly holistic operation.  There are many challenges that are inherent within a multi-generation operation, and the James family seems to have addressed many of these challenges with ease.  They realize that if they didn’t make a continual effort to foster healthy relationships with each other, the rest of their operation would crumble.

Situated in the beautiful Animas River Valley just outside Durango Colorado, the James family has already begun incorporating the third generation into ranch operations.  Welcoming children back to the ranch began fifteen years ago, and was not without its conditions.  As Dave James said in a recent interview, “We told each of the children that they could come back to the ranch, but only if they could create their own sustainable enterprise.”  Most of the children chose to leave high-paying corporate jobs in order to help achieve what was once a dream, and is now their reality.

The James Ranch is much diversified in their enterprises.  Not only do they raise grass-fed beef but they will also serve you’re a James Ranch burger at their Harvest Grill.  At the James Ranch Market you will find their beef, jerky, eggs, almond milk, artisan cheeses, vegetables, flowers and more.  They use the whey from the cheese making process to soak grains that are then fed to their pigs – thus the creation of their “Whey-Good Pork”.

Although the diversity within their enterprises complements each other nicely, they felt there was still something missing.  They felt that people wanted more than just a local place to stop and buy their groceries; they wanted to experience the James Ranch.  The James Family then began taking customers out on Farm-Tours.  They found that this was a way for those buying their products to see the pastures, and hear about how they rotated cattle and why.  It was also a way for the kids to witness how bugs contribute to the big picture, and the role that water plays.  In addition to all this, witnessing the wildlife that thrives on and around the 400-acre ranch is testament to their holistic land stewardship.

Overall, the James Ranch is a prime example of an incredibly successful and highly sustainable operation.  When I complimented Kay James on how well she and Dave had done, she said, “Oh no it is not just us, it’s a family effort!”  This is a perfect illustration of why they have been so successful.  To recognize the power and importance of healthy relationships is one thing; to foster their health to the extent that the James Ranch has, that is the epitome of Holistic Management.

Assigning Value to Ecosystem Services

Bookmark and Share

One of the things we often struggle with is how to measure the increased value of the ecosystem services from managing land using Holistic Management techniques.  In a world where the monetary value of something is the yard stick by which most things are measured, it would be useful to be able to be able to use the same language when we describe the benefits to the environment from our management.  If there’s a bean counter out there looking at how to  justify using a holistic approach versus a conventional one, showing the “return on investment” in terms and language he/she understands might be the difference between being hired to manage a property or not.

HMI recently hired an engineering consultant to employ a technique called a Habitat Equivalency Analysis (HEA), to measure the improved function in ecosystem services from a well pad site restored using targeted, Holistic Planned Grazing.  The HEA process was developed by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to measure the loss of ecosystem function due to accidents like oil spills.  The process has help up in court cases and is recognized by other government agencies.  HMI decided to flip that process inside out and use it to measure the improvements to ecosystem function instead.

A report of that analysis follows.  It makes for some interesting reading.  Maybe it’s a process you While some of it seems too technical in nature, it’s could be a valuable analysis to use when assigning value to ecosystem services.

 

Habitat Equivalency Analysis

 Of Well Site Restoration on Devil Springs Ranch

Farmington, New Mexico

 

Conducted by R2 Engineering

For

Holistic Management International

April 2010

Executive Summary

R Squared Incorporated (R²) and Holistic Management International (HMI) have engaged together to provide environmental protection and preservation in concert with energy development.  R² and HMI are jointly supporting the Open Space Pilot Project (OSPP) in the San Juan Basin, New Mexico, which is a comprehensive planning and implementation program for management of energy development site disturbances.  HMI has provided a unique opportunity to productively integrate existing land uses with energy development and reclamation.   R² has implemented quantification tools to capture the improvements of the practices being implemented as part of the OSPP.  The ultimate message of this cooperative project is that it is possible for private land preservation, environmental protection, energy development and generation of economy to coexist productively for the benefit of all.

Introduction

R Squared Incorporated (R²) is providing technical support to HMI through quantifying changes to the ecological services of the habitats contained within the OSPP in the San Juan Basin, New Mexico.  Based on visual observation, it is readily apparent that the HMI practice applied to reclamation creates substantial benefit in terms of habitat quantity and quality.  This project was designed to measure and quantify the benefits provided through the HMI practice.

The OSPP, a project implemented presently on the Devil’s Spring Ranch in New Mexico, is a comprehensive planning and implementation program for management of energy development site disturbances.  For new sites, the OSPP supports a framework for site development and management, including reclamation.  For existing sites, it provides a means of site reclamation that is economically viable, environmentally responsible, sustainable and socially acceptable. The program integrates energy development, local and broader economy generation and environmental sustainability.  The primary energy development activities within the OSPP are natural gas; however, there also are coal bed methane gas wells. This project includes using HMI framework, scientific principles, engineering approaches integrated with local conditions resulting in a minimal footprint for overall energy production.  The OSPP incorporates goals and responsibilities of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the energy companies, with priorities of the grazing permittees and landowners, into a collaborative process to produce energy resources in an environmentally beneficial and long- term responsible manner.  The OSPP is 5,760 acres, contains 99 existing wells with another 44 to be drilled, and 23 miles of roadway. The key of the OSPP is to reduce both interim and long term land disturbance through energy development in the San Juan Basin.

Holistic Management International (HMI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining grasslands worldwide. When those grasslands have been impacted or destroyed, they support private, public and communal grassland restoration by managing resources in partnership with nature to increase the productivity of the land, optimize water resources, preserve food sources, create sustainable livelihoods and sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The objectives of the partnership between HMI and R² for this specific project are:

  •  Identify “undisturbed” habitats and their natural resource components within the OSPP
  • Determine the ecological “value” of parcels of land used as well pads, before and after energy development well pad creation
  • Quantify increase in ecological service value through reclamation provided through HMI practice

Concept of Ecosystem Services and Valuation

The quantification process is extrapolated from the Habitat Equivalency Analysis (HEA) model designed by the United State Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) and modified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) through the natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) process.  All natural resources provide services to other natural resources and humans.  When the natural resources experience an impact, it often generates an interim lost use of services of those natural resources.

Habitat Equivalency Analysis (HEA) is an analytical framework that originally was developed to calculate compensation for loss of ecological services resulting from injury to a natural resource through a spill of oil or a release of a hazardous substance.  HEA has been tested and upheld in Natural Resource Damages (NRD) litigation and determined to be appropriate quantification methodology to determine the value of ecological services of natural resources and to adequately equate the debits from injury to natural resources and services to the credits generated from restoration, or in this case, reclamation.  The HEA identifies:

  • Interim lost natural resource services
  • Resources/Service losses due to injury = Resource/service gains from compensatory restoration project
  • Obtain equivalency between the resources/services lost and those gained through restoration (in this case reclamation)

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment statutes require natural resource trustees to determine when a natural resource has been injured. The HEA was initially designed to support the trustees with these determinations and quantification of the loss or “debit”. The injury is calculated in DSAYs, discounted service acre years, rather than a monetary calculation, so that compensation in the form of restoration can be scaled and designed to offset the debit.  DSAYS relates to the amount of ecological services that were lost because of the injury to the natural resource.  The output is discounted by 3%, as nationally agreed to by economic professionals, in order to compensate for the naturally occurring changes in ecosystems and their services over time.

The goal of the NRDA is to provide compensation to the public for those injuries and the interim lost use of the natural resource services through achieving the following goals:

  •  Make the public whole for injuries to natural resources that result from the release of hazardous substances or oil
  • The public is made whole through “restoration” (damages recovered must be used for restoration)
  • NRDA restoration complements, but is distinct from, “cleanup” actions

When the injury is calculated in DSAYS, the restoration project is then also put through the HEA to demonstrate through DSAYS that the restoration designed is adequate in DSAYS to offset the DSAYS resulting from the injury.

R² Incorporated extrapolated the “HEA approach” from the NRDA arena to bring the appropriate quantification methodology to:

  •  Identify and quantify the baseline condition of the land prior to E&P activities (well pad construction)
  • Quantify the increase in natural resource services through reclamation utilizing HMI practices vs traditional reclamation of well pads

HEA incorporates the resource service level at the time of “the impact”, or in the case of this project, at the time of construction of the well pad.  Additional variables for the analysis include the time when the habitat replacement begins (or reclamation is initiated), the annualized per unit value of the impacted habitat through construction of the well pad, the level of services per unit being provided by the replacement habitat (reclamation through HMI practice), the initial services per unit of the reclamation, the discount factor (which has been previously established at 3%), the total in acres of the reclamation that equates the impacts to the gains through reclamation.

Methodology

R² Incorporated conducted a site tour of the Open Space Pilot Project Devil’s Spring Ranch on April 28-29, 2010.  A site visit was made to several well pads, but specifically focusing and comparing the reclamation efforts at San Juan Basin 28-6 Unit 124-M.  The well pads visited included both recent (less than 3 years) reclaimed and not recent (greater than or equal to 3 years) reclaimed pads.  Typical well pad construction for natural gas wells include temporary surface disturbance of approximately 215 foot by 300 foot well pads, a construction zone up to 50 feet wide around the perimeter of the site, to a total disturbance  of 2.89 acres with approximately 1.0 acre of long-term disturbance for the collection facilities, tank and road for access.

Two specific well pads were identified for analysis:

  • One plot reclaimed with Best Management Practices for the San Juan Basin; and
  • One plot reclaimed with HMI practices

Observations made during the site inspection included:

  • visual observations and description;
  • photographs of the reclaimed area(s),
  • measuring abundance, stem height and density of grasses present

The application of HEA for this specific project included collecting information for two reclaimed well pads within the San Juan Basin Unit 28-6.  Data collected included:

  •  the year “impact” began which is the year the well pad was constructed
  • the  habitat quality and type adjacent to but not impacted by the construction of the well pad
  • the amount of vegetation “measured” during the site visit
  • the type(s) of vegetation growing on the reclaimed well pads during the site visit

R² extrapolated the HEA approach to “measure” the service(s) provided by the habitats observed during the field visit to the OSPP.  Prior to the construction of the well pads for exploration and production, certain habitats existed and provided natural resource services.  Those services were temporarily interrupted through the construction of well pads and drilling for energy.  Reclamation is required as part of the permitting process for petroleum exploration and production.  The HMI practice has been integrated into the reclamation on the San Juan Basin Unit 28-6 #124-M.  Based on visual observation, the HMI practice has provided significant support to the reclamation, as compared to other well pads reclaimed without the HMI practice application, and is responsible for successful re-vegetation and creating an increase in habitat type and ecological services provided by the created habitat.  Measuring services of a habitat are no easy task as habitat functions are complex.  A “metric” must be selected to support the determination whether a restoration project (or in this case a reclamation project) has been successful.  R² chose measuring the amount of grasses within a plot area on each reclaimed well pad, and the stem height of the grasses present, as the appropriate metric to quantify the benefits created through reclamation on the OSPP.  Since habitats typically provide numerous services, R² focused on the services of the grasses for this project, in order to prevent the process from being overcomplicated and so that a straight-forward quantification could be provided.  Stem height is an attribute that can be used to measure the services provided by grasses because it is an easy non-destructive measurement and because it represents the functional roles of the habitat:

  • food sources
  • shelter for small terrestrial receptors including insects and other invertebrates
  • soil stabilization
  • nutrient recycling

Results

Based on visual observation, the HMI-reclaimed pads demonstrate a much greater reclamation success.  Within each of the visually inspected reclaimed pads, a small location within the total 2.89 acres disturbed area considered “the plot” was measured for vegetation type, vegetation abundance and vegetation stem height to confirm a level of maturity within the vegetation and habitat.  It is an area of approximately 1” by 2”, chosen to be representative of the entire reclaimed area. The stem height of the grass plots in the HMI pad were approximately ½-3” high.  The stem height within the non-HMI reclaimed pads never measured higher than ½”.  The abundance of new grasses and other vegetation growing at the HMI-reclaimed pad, based on visual observation is substantially greater than the vegetation growing on the Conoco Phillips pad that has been reclaimed for 3 years and exhibits less than 1% vegetation across the entire reclaimed pad. (Plate 1-photos of the reclaimed pads).  The reclamation is a success from several perspectives, including supporting a greater range of wildlife as well as complimenting the local land owner uses.

The information collected during the field visit April 28-29, 2010, for two well pads were input into the HEA model.  Running the HEA model, the debit or interim lost use resulting from the creation of the well pad was 6.65 DSAYS (discounted service acre years).  This means that 6.65 acres of habitat is required to compensate for the interim lost use resulting from the construction of the well pad.  The HEA results for the HMI-reclaimed pad were 6.82 DSAYS, which means that there were greater ecological services created in one year through the HMI reclamation practices than the reclamation calculated as required through the HEA.  The non-HMI reclaimed pad HEA results were .61 DSAYs documenting that the HMI-reclamation generated a greater amount of ecological services in one year, than the non-HMI reclamation provided over three years.

The results are displayed below:

The graph above depicts the difference in the Service Level Acres (SLAc) of the traditional reclamation effort versus the reclamation accomplished through HMI practices.  The results of the HEA additionally depict not only that there is significant difference in the level of ecological service value resulting from the two reclamation efforts and that the HMI-reclaimed pad will continue to “sustain” the ecological service value and potentially continue to increase over time thereby providing a significant habitat that supports livestock and wildlife, a desired outcome for the BLM and other stakeholders.

The presence of abundant vegetation also serves not only to provide valuable habitat and nutrition sources for both wildlife and livestock, but also to prohibit the erosion of valuable top soil, another priority of stakeholders of the Devils’ Spring Ranch, and the San Juan Basin.

The habitat prior to E&P activities, as documented in the Revised Environmental Assessment (EA) for the San Juan Basin 28-6 Unit #458S is primarily pinon-juniper woodland with areas of reclaimed community.  The reclaimed co munity is dominated by Russian thistly (Salsola tragus) and Prostrate vervain( Verbena bracteata).  The undisturbed proposed project area is a combination of pinon pine (Pinus edulis), Utah juniper (Juniperus osteospera) as well as rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) (Ecoshpere 2009).  Overall, the vegetation has been estimated to be at about 1-10% cover in the well pad locations, prior to E&P activities (primarily construction of well pads).

The OSPP is located within the San Juan Basin, which supports abundant wildlife species as well as domestic land uses such as livestock grazing.  Primary wildlife includes mule deer, desert cottontail, ground squirrels, kangaroo rat, black-tailed jack rabbit and prairie dog, and elk utilize the area in the winter months.  The open terrain (primarily to the east and along the canyon walls of the basin), the pinon-juniper woodlands and the open grasslands provide marginal foraging and nesting habitat for large raptors, in particular golden eagles, prairie falcons and red-tailed hawks although no raptors, nests or whitewash was observed in the project area.  There are also over 350 avian species in San Juan County and the surrounding area.  A total of 136 species were confirmed breeding in San Juan County (Ecosphere 2009)

Grass is a preferred food of elk, however they can thrive on forbs and woody browse as well. Mule deer are primarily browsers, with a majority of their diet comprised of forbs (broad-leaved, non-woody plants) and browse (leaves and twigs of shrubs and trees). Deer digestive tracts differ from cattle and elk in that they have a smaller rumen in relation to their body size and so they must be more selective in their feeding. Instead of eating large quantities of low quality feed like grass, deer must select the most nutritious plants and parts of plants.

The presence and condition of the shrub component is an underlying issue found throughout different ecoregions and is important to many factors affecting mule deer populations. Shrubs occur mostly in early successional habitats; that is, those recently disturbed and going through the natural processes of maturing to a climax state. This means disturbance is a key element to maintaining high quality deer habitat.  The HMI-reclaimed pad, based on visual observations and supported by the HEA quantification, provides a broader reaching and more abundant habitat to support both livestock and wildlife since the threat of shrubs taking over valuable foraging habitat for wildlife is reduced by the presence of abundant grasses resulting from the HMI-reclamation efforts.  In winter range areas, expansion and maturation of pinon-juniper woodlands in the absence of fire has decreased understory diversity and productivity resulting in less winter forage for deer. (BLM, XXXX)  In ponderosa pine forests, suppression of regular, natural understory fires has increased ladder fuels, increased crown fire potential, and reduced understory productivity.  The HMI-reclamation provides for greater habitat generation, protection and receptor support.

In addition to changes in plant species composition that favor less palatable and often non-native species, nutritional quality of deer habitat can also decline as preferred plant species mature and older growth accumulates. As plants mature, cell walls thicken, anti-herbivory defenses become more developed, and the relative amount of nutritious, current annual growth decreases. Periodic disturbance is often necessary to stimulate plant productivity. Traditionally, this disturbance has been created through controlled burns or removal of certain vegetation, primarily sage and pinon-junipers.  The collaboration between the production of energy and reclamation has allowed for complimentary “disturbance” to the ecosystems in the San Juan Basin.  The disturbance provided by the construction of well pads which are then reclaimed through the HMI practice serve to not only support the necessary interruption of “over growth” of mature species that decline in habitat and nutritional value over time, but also to produce a more valuable habitat and nutritional source through reclamation.

In conclusion, the San Juan Basin is currently the object of energy development, primarily natural gas exploration and production.  A great deal of the land contained within the OSPP, which is included in the San Juan Basin, is either owned privately and grazed, or owned by the United States or the State of New Mexico and leased for grazing.  There is a need to create a balance between the development of energy, the private use of the land, the generation of economy and the preservation and restoration of the environment.  The balance achieved and demonstrated through the efforts implemented at the OSPP through the incorporation of HMI practices in reclamation are evidence of the capability to balance the production of energy, the generation of economy and protection of the environment for all stakeholders in a collaborative process with land owners and private enterprise, leaving the land with a much greater legacy.

REFERENCES

Operating Standards and Guidelines for Oil and Gas Exploration and Development, “The Gold Book”, Fourth Edition, Bureau of Land Management 2007.

Environmental Assessment, BURLINGTON RESOURCES OIL AND GAS COMPANY, LP. SAN JUAN 28-6 UNIT #126N, PROPOSED NATURAL GAS WELL PROJECT, MINERAL LEASE NM NMSF-079192 Ecosphere Environmental Services (2009)

 

Plate 1: Photos comparing Non-HMI reclamation vs. Holistic Managed-reclamation.  Photos on left is San Juan Basin 28-6 Unit 124-M (non-HMI site).  Photos on right show HM-reclamation.

 


HM reclaimed well site.

Vegetation Responses to Spatial Management

Bookmark and Share

Article:  Spatial Management of Grazing to Enhance Both Livestock Production and Resource Condition: A Scientific Argument

Authors: Norton, Brian E.

Journal: Proceedings of the VIIth International Rangelands Congress

As we have seen, increasing stocking rates can dramatically improve overall operational performance by improving per hectare production, hence increasing total ranch production.  In many cases, stocking rates have been increased well beyond expectations.

Norton poses the question: How is range and vegetation condition affected by stocking rate increases?  One might suspect that stocking rates increases can be sustained for short periods, but that declining vegetation quality and quantity will eventually result in an overall reduced carrying capacity.  Research shows that this is not the case.

As Norton notes, Smoliak (1960) conducted a study in Alberta, Canada and measured a number of vegetation variables “including species composition, plant density, plant cover, forage production, and forage quality…”   In the implementation of this research, “he was able to comfortably carry 60% more animals for 7 years under either continuous grazing or a deferred rotation without adverse impacts to the vegetation…”

And again, research conducted in Zimbabwe by Barnes and Denny (1977, 1991) demonstrates that “stocking rate can be substantially increased beyond what is generally recommended as the optimum carrying capacity for the kind of rangeland found near Bulawayo, increased to even double the recommended rate, without imposing adverse impact on the condition of the resource.”

As this paper notes, grazing management under research conditions frequently demonstrates the possibility of increased stocking rates:  “Norton cites nine examples from the published literature… in which stocking rates 50% greater (or more) than the recommended district rates were sustained…”  This is consistent with anecdotal evidence and monitoring data from commercial operations:

Primary producers claim that some forms of rotational grazing systems allow a substantial in stocking rates above previously recommended levels (an increase of at least 50 or 100% is common) without significant loss of individual animal production, with a concurrent improvement in rangeland condition and much higher gross income margins.

This information is consistent with the results of the Charter Estate Grazing Trials.

The reasons for these improvements are manifold.  One potential reason is improved animal nutrition.  Although short duration grazing increases grazing pressure, animals are moved rapidly through a paddock and often can only take a single bite of a tiller and “the first bite that a herbivore removes from a particular plant or tiller is arguably more nutritious than subsequent bites from the same part of the plant, and thus diet quality is maintained…”

Vegetation quality is maintained because “the first bite removes only about half of a grass tiller, which is a moderate level of impact, and remaining photosynthetic tissue contributes to the rate of recovery from defoliation.”  Additionally, the ability to control utilization, eliminate soil capping, remove standing dead material, and design disturbance has a number of other benefits that are all but impossible to achieve under continuous grazing.

When we begin to combine these insights and research results with careful planning, strong monitoring, and GIS, Holistic Management becomes an extremely attractive option for those managers looking to optimize ranch performance and achieve specifically defined objectives.