by Ann Adams
While Louis Martin didn’t grow up on a ranch, he had many experiences while visiting his ranching grandparents and uncles which led him to become active in 4H showing sheep and cattle. Louis became interested in the business aspect of ranching as he grew older, and in high school he was baling and hauling hay for John Merrell, a successful local rancher and Director of the Texas Christian University Ranch Management Program.
Despite being told by friends and family that it was too hard to earn an income, John helped Louis see the possibilities of a future in agriculture. He enrolled at Texas A&M University to major in Animal Science to learn to become a ranch manager. Soon Louis could see that it would take more than a degree in Animal Science to become a successful rancher, so he began taking courses in Business, Accounting, Economics, Agronomy, Range Science, Wildlife Management and others so he could have a well-rounded education and foundation for his future.
Lewis eventually worked his way up to General Manager for the Texas A&M Beef Cattle Center while earning his Master’s degree, creating a network of various mentors as he went. And during this time he heard of Holistic Management, thought of as highly controversial at the time, but what seemed to make perfect sense to Louis.
Louis recalls, “I remember one time right before I was leaving the university, I was doing some consulting on financial planning. We had workshops and were doing financial analysis. There were three ranches owned by one family in three stages of development, with one using Holistic Management. After doing the analysis on $85/hundred weight cattle pricing two of the ranches were just breaking even. But, the Holistically Managed ranch had reduced input costs and had a$35/cwt profit margin on their cattle. That was another eye opening moment for me.”
While working on his Holistic Management skills, he accepted a position at a large ranch in Utah where he implemented grazing planning to face the challenges of the 2002 drought. “Due to some of the management actions, we were able to increase the stocking rate by 30% and achieve a 90% conception rate that fall, all during one of the worst droughts on record and reduced operating expenses and production cost by 25% in the first two years of Holistic Management there.”
Sadly, while the ranch thrived, the culture did not change as quickly and Louis was asked to leave in 2003. However, this led to another opportunity at Frasier Farms of Colorado, a large ranch owned by a family involved in Holistic Management for over 25 years. Louis adds, “This was a great opportunity. The family understood Holistic Management, the business was successful, and they were good to work with.”
In 2007, Louis’ dream presented itself through the unique and historical Brett Gray Ranch. Because of its size, history and ecological features (which includes a large spring fed stream), the Colorado State Land Board and The Nature Conservancy collaborated to purchase and conserve the ranch. And that fall, SLB and TNC send out a Request for Proposal to lease, manage and regenerate the natural resources of Brett Gray Ranch. Louis, along with the Frasier Family, submitted a management proposal and Round River Resource Management was born.
“Round River Resource Management is a land and livestock management company that manages ranchlands and livestock. We custom graze livestock (yearlings, cow/calf) to utilize them as a tool in a planned intensive grazing system designed to improve the ecosystem processes, regenerate our rangelands, and protect and improve our riparian areas. We are also building our own herd that is Global Animal Partnership (GAP) certified. We take them up to finishing, but they are finished elsewhere,” adds Lewis.
And there has been dramatic improvement on the Brett Gray, where they now have all 17 desired grass species compared to the earlier count of 5 and transitioned from 70% bare ground to 70% litter cover. Meanwhile, TNC is monitoring wildlife and bird species and they are starting to identify rare species on the ranch that weren’t there before.
In 2014, Louis and Round River Resource Management took on the management of the Lyme Ranch which is 60 miles away and is privately owned by the Lyme Timber Company. The land was overgrazed and the infrastructure was very poor with a 40-year-old water system. While TNC is involved in the monitoring of the ranch, the Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) helped design a new water system. Along with a new fencing system and adequate rest, the stocking rate improved from 400 AU’s in November 2015 to 800 AU’s in 2017 and has resulted in improved root systems on the land.
“The things we’ve accomplished on these ranches are really exciting, to see how we’ve been able to shift our rangeland toward the climax plant species and the improved production and biodiversity has been amazing. I figure it takes five years to really make changes. It takes one to two years to learn the system and determine what you have and the third year you implement the changes and the 4th and 5th years you begin to see the results.”
Louis show as much enthusiasm about his apprentice program. During his six-month program, apprentices get hands-on learning opportunities such as: grazing planning and management; rangeland monitoring; general maintenance of equipment and facilities; livestock handling and health management; enterprise budgeting; and animal nutrition and reproduction. Louis also provides mentorship for the Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Program (NAP). “Ideally my goal is to move them through the intern and apprentice positions and then have permanent positions to offer them,” says Louis. “I try to maintain a long–term relationship with them.
“So far we’ve had 27 interns and apprentices. Five of them went to veterinary school. Two were offered assistantships to graduate school. One stayed for four years and now is managing a holistically managed ranch in Kansas. One apprentice’s goal was to get into the Ranch Management graduate program at the Texas A&M King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management, and they were recently accepted, and another was hired as a research assistant. Even though they haven’t all stayed here, they achieved their goals and are in the industry. Seeing the growth in them is exciting for me.”
If you are interested in being a mentor for the Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Program, learn more about the program at: https://quiviracoalition.org/newagrarian/#about.
Increasing stock density as allowed Louis and his team to put more litter on the ground as can be seen in these pre- and post-grazing pictures taken in August 2017. Stock density was at over 500,000 pounds/acre. Average graze period was 14.5 hours. They work as much as a year of recovery before coming back to some areas.
From 2008 to 2017, the management improvements have resulted in an increase in perennial species from 4 to 16 even on this challenged salt meadow pasture.
Do what Louis did and empower yourself with Holistic Management!
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