by Kathy Harris, HMI Director of Programs
On May 15th and 16th, 96 people, who together report managing or influencing almost 255,000 acres, gathered at the Agrilife Extension building in Wheeler TX. The group included mostly ranchers or farm/ranch employees, along with some agency folks, and a good group of West Texas A&M students.
Only a handful identified themselves as researchers or educators, but all came to hear world-renowned grazing expert and HMI Certified Educator Ian Mitchell-Innes from South Africa, and the slate of award-winning and experienced ranchers who shared their ideas on how to meet the demands of ranching challenges in these times.
Ian Mitchell-Innes, best known for teaching “mob” or high density grazing, shared his passion, pragmatism, and ranching experience from across the world. “Don’t go home and change everything all at once,” he cautioned. “Just set up a small, temporary inclusion zone to bunch animals for a portion of a day, and see how the land responds. Watch the animals,” he also urged. “Animals know where the energy is in the forage, and different species eat different plants, so the more species of animals you have, the more money you can make off the same area.” Ian focused on soil health and how planning your grazing and “feeding the Whole” can result in better energy capture, improved animal performance, and better human health.
Wally Olson, an experienced rancher who was originally trained by Bud Williams, now teaches Livestock Marketing. He shared an overview of the Sell-Buy Marketing strategy, explaining how he creates cash flow by strategically selling and buying livestock. A key, he explained, is understanding the cost of maintaining livestock on grass. One can realize the full value of grass by taking into account appreciation and depreciation of livestock related to current market values, and then selling to capture the value of weight gain. He showed how he takes market values of different classes of animals, calculates his costs of growing animals from one class to another, and then determines which animals are under- and over-valued at any point in time. Knowing this, he can sell and buy with more profitable results.
Deborah Clark told the story of how she and her husband, Emry, made it through tough times by combining herds. They experienced some of their best results in improved forages during the drought, and have even seen the return of native perennial Eastern Gamma grass. They tag-teamed the presentation with Deborah talking about improvements in Ecosystem processes and the value of managing towards a holistic goal, while Emry fielded questions on the practicalities of management practices.
The last session of the workshop was a panel of area producers who have been implementing these practices. Moderator Dr. Tim Steffens posed questions like “What did you have to ‘unlearn’ to apply these principles?”, “How do you deal with naysayers?”, and “What’s the best way to learn these practices?” Emry Birdwell and Doak Elledge both urged “Go to school! (Holistic Management courses)” and “Don’t try to do this without training!” Dr. Steffens added “Read the book.” Mike Turner brought up the issue of resource inventory and planning the water sites, lines and fences. Joe Van Zandt and Wally Olson both suggested to listen to Ian and combine your herds. It was an informative discussion with good involvement all around.
You can contact or learn more about some of our speakers here:
Deborah Clark and Emry Birdwell:
Wally Olson, Livestock Marketing:
Videos from the Day
Increasing Production Six-Fold
How Cows Graze
Grow Grass, Kill Cactus
Results from the training evaluation showed:
Those who anticipate a potential economic benefit from participation in this program 91%
Increased knowledge of how to capture maximum energy on your land 86%
Intent to change management practices or apply ideas learned at this event 90%
Some of the take-aways that participants plan to put into practice include:
Focus on how to harvest energy
Better planned grazing, combining herds, judging recovery periods
Better conscious decision making
More cattle, pastures, and rotation – less chemicals
Start small and try it
Try larger herds to rejuvenate the land
Improved water infrastructure
Look more closely at sell-buy
Manage depreciation better
Here are some comments from participants about the most valuable things they learned:
Work with the land not against it; be willing to change.
Soil health leads to plant health leads to animal health.
Get the best Holistic Management education possible, get connected to HMI network.
Take concepts and adapt to management plan, there’s no one way to do things on ranch.
Use temporary fencing for stock density to achieve better results.
More cattle, pastures, rotation. Less chemicals.
Cattle can rehabilitate soil.
How to capture more water, how to keep soil covered in litter better, how to improve animal performance.
How to have healthier soils, use less expensive inputs for more profit, have bigger herd for land management.
Manage with what you have rather than what you want; Holistic Management can help increase carrying capacity.
There are people earning a good living ranching; livestock improves the land; without healthy soil there will not be healthy animals or people.
Selling opportunities for over-valued cattle; mob grazing advantages.
Importance of stock density and use of holistic planned grazing protocols.
This event would not have been possible without the generous funding from
Special thanks to Joe and Janie VanZandt , Thomas Cunningham and all the great Wheeler County Texas A&M Agrilife Extension folks who helped host this event!
Thank You to our Sponsors
Thanks to our lunch sponsors:
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