When Nancy Ranney and her siblings took over the family ranch in 2002, they decided to try something different: Planned rotational grazing. Instead of 19 pastures grazed year-round by 18 herds, they put all the cattle in one herd and split the ranch into 31 pastures. As Nancy says, “By moving them across the landscape at short intervals, you’re working with time and we can rest any single pasture from 6 months to a year or more. One bite and they’re off.”
But the experiment was almost a breaking point for long-time Ranch Manager Melvin Johnson, “I was almost not willing to try. I can’t take a college kid in a baseball cap and a pair of tennis shoes coming here and telling me what I’ve done all my life, to move cattle here and do this and that. I don’t know if I can do that,” he said. Initially he said, “I almost didn’t want to admit that I was seeing a difference. But then I began to realize that the condition of the cattle was changing. Flies – the 22 day cycle was breaking. And my medicine bill is probably 10% of what an average ranch would be. So I don’t know if we could have done anything better.” He also noted that cool season grasses that hadn’t been seen for 30 years came back. That reduced their dependence on supplement dropping their bill from $60,000 a year to $20,000.
The 18,000 acre Ranney Ranch is located in Corona, New Mexico. Even at the best of times they only see about 14 inches of precipitation a year. Then in 2011, they entered a multi-year drought. “That was when we really knew this was working,” said Nancy. While neighbors had to sell off their whole herds, Ranney Ranch only reduced theirs by 50%. They had enough grass to make it through 2 years of drought.
In this 9:23 minute video, Melvin and Nancy take you on a tour of the ranch, showing the benefits of their new grazing plan and providing an across the fence comparison with a neighbor who has yet to change. What I like best about this video is that it demonstrates that rotational grazing can be done on a very large scale, even in the arid west. Enjoy!