Custom Grazing: Why I Got Out

I spent my first five years as a farmer raising custom cow-calf pairs, but my custom grazing days are over. After 40+ hours of spreadsheets, calculations and analysis, I decided to spend 2018 breeding and flipping heifers under my ownership. Custom grazing allowed me to get my start in farming, but did not fit the future I have planned for my business. My vision has always been to make my own decisions without being beholden to someone else. A custom grazier technically is not a partner or employee of the herd owner. However, working with a herd owner does limit your freedom. You will almost always need to alter your operation in some way to keep them happy. If you don’t accommodate your herd owner, you won’t have one for long. It’s very important for both owners and graziers to choose each other carefully. Not seeing eye-to-eye with the other party, or working with a business that is having internal problems, will bring an early end to your joint endeavor. Both of my custom grazing deals ended in less than 2 years. I need a business plan with future stability. More on this in my next article. You need to make sure before signing a deal that custom grazing is really the most profitable thing you can be doing with your land and resources. What I discovered when evaluating my options this past winter is that I was leaving money on the table by custom grazing cow-calf pairs. You will usually be signing a contract for a set amount of time. Say you sign for 3 years,

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5 thoughts on “Custom Grazing: Why I Got Out

  1. Hey Meg,

    Really enjoyed the article. We custom graze as well. We also direct market a small amount as well as sell organic finished cattle wholesale. I totally appreciate the part of your article talking about loosing autonomy when you have a herd owner. We spend a lot of time with requests, but also finding herd owners that can provide cattle at the scale we need. We spend time thinking about switching over to owning a larger percentage. However I did want to point out that the benefits you talked about being with being seasonal and carrying more units essentially increasing turnover can be achieved with custom grazing. We run cattle seasonally with yearlings and get the benefit of seasonality and higher stocking rates. Plus in our neck of the woods Cow/Calf has the lowest return per 100 weight of any class. So it pays to run yearlings or finishers if the finishers prices are weight adjusted. Thanks for sharing it was fun read!

  2. You didn’t say how you were going to acquire your heifers. If you are going to buy them yourself at the local sale barn, I would suggest you make an agreement with one of the regular cattle buyers to purchase them for you. Even though you pay them a commission you would probably still come out spending less in the long run.

    1. I purchased the heifers from a grassfed ranch in Kansas, through Bill Roberts of 12 Stones Grassland Beef. Bill acted as escrow and I trust him to find me the genetics I need for both myself and the buyer of my heifers to succeed. I dislike the idea of buying sale barn cattle because they can be sick, stressed, and from unknown genetic backgrounds/management schemes.

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