I am a grazier, a person who raises livestock on pasture. The majority of my work-time is spent managing forage and animals with the intent of running an economically and ecologically successful ranching operation. Most of the work is not overwhelmingly difficult. In fact, most of the work is not really physical at all. I spend quite a lot of time wandering around, brooding, thinking about grazing strategy, reading about what other graziers are doing, scratching out plans for water, fencing, marketing, and talking to people I always assume are smarter than I am. For me, this is a very rewarding way to spend my time and my life.
So, even though I love what I do, I am always a bit surprised when someone approaches me with the idea that they want to be a grazier. Perhaps this is because even though I happen to enjoy my career, being a grazier is certainly not a mainstream occupation. With all the choices available, from Astronaut to Zookeeper, Grazier is definitely a minority fringe selection. Why would someone choose this path?
If you are considering becoming a grazier, it might be very helpful (for you) to know why you want to pursue that profession. Please select the most pertinent answers to the following question:
“I want to become a grazier because ________________.”
1. I want to make money and be paid a reasonable return for my time and skill.
2. I want to pursue ecological progress on the land: build the soil, improve water and nutrient cycles, improve wildlife habitat, protect water quality for my downstream neighbors.
3. I want to work outside in the fresh air, wandering around looking at plants and animals and communing with nature.
4. I want to help move my rural community toward a stable agricultural base, one where land is used in a sustainable way, where people are able to stay on the land, where majestic landscapes remain open.
If you answered yes to one of the above, great! You have a rational reason for wanting to be a grazier. If you selected two, well, bully for you. The fact is, well-managed grazing can accomplish all of the above, and a bunch more positive things at the same time. Here’s a few other things that professional graziering can bring to your life:
It’s fun! It is intellectually stimulating. It can bring you into all kinds of intense personal relationships with other interesting folks. It can allow you to pursue a rural lifestyle. It can allow you to maintain your mental and physical health at a very high level. It can allow you to have a net positive effect on the earth, your family, your community. It can provide you with a low-stress work environment.
Need I go on?
Now for some down sides: becoming a professional grazier is not easy or simple. It will require a long process of education and experience. There are many different pathways that lead to grazing success, but your progress will be limited by the amount of time, energy, physical and mental skill and financial commitment you bring to the table.
Becoming a grazier is not for the faint of heart. But my goodness, what a great way to spend your time.
Editor’s note: in future articles John will discuss some of the pathways available to novice graziers, along with some of the common pitfalls.