For the last month I’ve been writing about Cody and Deanna Sand and the Sand Ranch and the changes they made starting in 2011 that enabled them to get out of debt, start making a profit, and have more fun too. Thanks to all these changes, they were able to purchase land that they had leased for the previous 10 years so they could expand their operation. It’s currently the only debt they carry. Deanna was able to quit her off-farm job because now they actually make money ranching. For years she’d driven 60 miles one way every day to work. Not doing that anymore made a huge difference in the whole family’s quality of life. Calving season is a breeze for them since they moved to May June calving. No more going out in blizzards to pull calves, in fact, no more going out to feed in the cold and snow since they graze their herd year round. Cody jokes that they lay around a lot more now, though I find that hard to believe.
What I described in the articles are practices that are relatively easy to implement from a labor standpoint, and there’s even funding to help you do it yourself. So what’s stopping you? Cody has an idea: “Fear.”
Fear is a good thing. It can protect us from doing something stupid. But sometimes it keeps us in a rut. The changes that the Sands made meant they were leaving behind everything they knew. But what they knew wasn’t getting them the results they wanted. When they realized they needed something to change, fear was no longer a big enough motivator.
Cody recommends making a plan as a tool for overcoming fear and to help make sure you’re going in the right direction. But even getting to the planning stage requires some internal work. So here are some more suggestions drawn from the lessons shared by Cody and Deanna to get you going.
Once they realized they needed to do something differently, the first thing the Sands did was attend a Holistic Management Workshop taught by Josh Dukart. The workshop helped them identify their goals and how they could get there.
The week they spent driving back and forth between the ranch and the workshop in below zero weather, plus the time off work, was a big investment. But as my Dad always told me, “You can never go wrong investing in yourself.” If you’re ready to look at training options, here’s a website where you can find certified Holistic Management trainers and find workshops in your area. Josh and Tara Dukart also travel to offer workshops. You can email Josh or Tara for more information.
Ask For Help
One of the keys to successfully changing their operation was the financial assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that made it possible for the Sands to divide their pastures into sections and get water to all of them. Without that help they wouldn’t have been able to make as much progress as quickly as they did.
There are NRCS offices and Extension and Resource Conservation District staffs all across the U.S. just standing by to help. They can tell you how to find funding, assist you in putting together requests and applications, and they’ll also be happy to provide advice and information on your soils and forages and things you might do to solve problems you have. You might even ask your neighbors who they’ve worked with our who they might suggest. Remember: Two heads (or more) are better than one.
Surround Yourself With Change Supporters
Cody and Deanna knew that changing their calving season was the right thing to do if they were going to make a profit. But the first season, Cody said it was really hard not to put his bulls in with the cows at the regular time when he saw all his neighbors doing it.
Kit Pharo calls people who don’t go along with everyone else, “Herd Quitters.” We’ve all grown up knowing that there’s a degree of safety in numbers, and that makes quitting the herd a hard thing to do. So maybe you can join a new herd, one that is willing to challenge the way we’ve always done things and to do things that make sense given the new systems we find ourselves in.
You might find your new herd nearby, as Chip Hines described in Intelligent Groups Make Innovations Easier. Check it out to get some tips on how you can create a group of people that can bounce ideas around and provide encouragement to each other. Another option would be to sign up for Kit Pharo’s newsletters. He’s always sharing things you can think about.
Remember that Change is a Process
Deanna says that every decision they make affects something else on the ranch, even if they may not notice it for 6 months to a year. That meant that they had to keep changing things along the way because going back to the way things had been was just not a viable option.
This kind of ongoing change is made easier when you have goals in mind that help you think about what you really want. For example, the Sands could have kept on haying. They chose not to because their goals included making the ranch profitable and having more time for each other. They could have decided not to change their calving season, but the work of calving in blizzards wasn’t fun and a lot of work too. It also made it difficult to winter graze, which was one of the keys to making the ranch profitable. Again, their goals helped them make choices about change.
Making Changes Means Making Mistakes Sometimes
When Cody talks about his new grazing management, he freely points out that sometimes he pushed the cows too hard, and that he’s learned to move them more frequently in certain conditions. As he said in last week’s article, there isn’t as much research on what he’s doing as there is on the kind of management that relies on lots of inputs. So there will be trial and error, and that’s part of the process.
The Sands have done a lot of reading along the way. Their suggestions include Jim Gerrish’s “Kick the Hay Habit, “How Not to Go Broke Ranching” by Walt Davis, and “Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey. You can find more from great reads at On Pasture’s Grazier’s Bookshelf. I would add all the books by Greg Judy as well. (The bookstore is powered by Amazon, so you get great prices and delivery, and On Pasture gets a small percentage of the sales so you’re supporting the publication that supports you. :-))
You can also re-read the articles in this series:
Watch the Video of Cody and Deanna Sands talking about their process
The Sands presented their experience to the North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition at the 2015 annual meeting. Check it out. Maybe one of the most important things you’ll see is that Cody and Deanna are just regular folks, like you. They just tried something different. If they can do it, so can you!