Of the big names in prescribed goat grazing, Ray Holes’ name is the biggest. Where most goat-based targeted grazing businesses start small and stay that way, Ray used his background in cattle ranching and his professional reputation for straight shooting and hard work to create the largest targeted grazing business in North America. Thanks to Ray and the many large-scale, successful projects he’s undertaken with his company, Prescriptive Livestock Services (PLS), many federal agencies, and state and local governments have begun to see targeted grazing as a viable option for controlling weeds and managing fire danger. And now, at the top of his game, Ray is selling his business, as he and his wife and three kids head on to their next adventure.
In the late 1980s, Ray was a cattle rancher struggling to control yellow starthistle on his Idaho ranch when he got his first herd of 450 goats. “We were spending $20,000 a year in chemical treatments to control yellow star, and we couldn’t get ahead of it,” Ray says. “We decided to get the goats, thinking that maybe we could break even on our costs if they would eat the yellow star. We found that they did a lot more than that. They ate the yellow star, they ate the brush and a lot of other weeds we had. It ended up being a much better overall deal.”
It’s hard to convince a bunch of cattlemen and some other range management professionals that goats grazing on their rangelands are a good deal. But Ray, a life-long cattleman himself, was in a better position than most to show them the benefits. One project led to the next, with Ray’s well-managed herds turning weed infested rangelands back into the diverse grasslands they were meant to be. That’s why Ray has never had to advertise. His projects speak for themselves and word of mouth helped him grow his business to over 8,000 head and targeted grazing projects in California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. As PLS and other prescribed graziers have demonstrated successes in vegetation management, land manager confidence in this tool has increased, which has in turn led to an increase in the size of contracts available for bid. Ray now sees $250,000 to $300,000 jobs available for bid.
What makes Prescriptive Livestock Services stand out in the growing industry of prescribed grazing is Ray’s attention to all the details required to make the business a success. On the project side he has a trained, reliable staff of people, herding dogs and kick ass guardian dogs, has the right equipment to get the goats from one job to the next, and the fencing and watering and handling facilities to manage the goats as they work. He manages kidding to provide for generations of healthy goat employees, as well as an additional source of income. Sales of surplus kids for goat meat is a very lucrative part of the PLS business model. Finally, on the business development end, Ray has focused on sharing information about projects and prescribed grazing and building relationships with potential clients by attending conferences and meetings. He credits these relationships, along with the fact that he’s not afraid to say when goats might not be the right tool, or when chemicals could be useful, as reasons PLS is often called first to consult on and bid for new projects.
As with any business keeping costs down is key. Ray has done this by setting up low-cost wintering areas and even during the project season, he has back up pastures just in case a fire should burn over a project or the goats need to be moved. As Ray says, “This is one of the biggest problems new contract grazers run into. When they don’t have a paying contract to be on for one reason or the other, they end up having to feed their goats or move them onto poor feed and that takes body condition down so the goats are not healthy for the next project they need to do. Either way it’s expensive.”
Ray’s work is made easier thanks to a well-trained goat workforce. It takes a lot of time and attention to put together a group of goats that know the ropes, who know what to eat and can adjust quickly to new feed types, how to work together, bed as a group in unusual locations when needed, can load and unload easily, manage the stress of moving from place to place, and then get right to work. But after almost 20 years of projects, and that many generations of Prescriptive Livestock Services bred goats, this is a herd with experience unlike any other. They know the ebb and flow of the grazing season, and all about climbing in and out of semi-trailers, wintering in Oregon and Washington, and then heading out to do it all again. They were born and bred to this life and that’s what makes them so much better at it than a random herd you might pick up at a sale barn.
All that is what you’ll get if you’re the lucky person who buys Ray’s still-growing business: Experienced goats, the equipment, kidding facilities and herding and guardian dogs to move and manage them, connections to the wintering pastures and clients in the industry, and maybe best of all, time with Ray himself to work with you on the existing contracts and get your feet solidly on the ground. These kinds of opportunities almost never happen, so if you can see yourself in any of these pictures, hurry and give Ray a call.
This video give you a good idea of what Ray has accomplished for the prescribed grazing industry.