Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas waxed poetic about the future with a thought that could be relevant for those of us trying to predict our grazing future:
“I am incredibly bad at predicting the future; I am only smart enough to observe the present and listen to my intuition about tendencies.”
As a farmer, this resonates well with me. I can see it in the work I did back in 2014-15 when I took the On Pasture Community along on my grazing planning and soothsaying adventure for that grazing season. Kathy helped me by highlighting the pasture resource that we started with in this video. It shows what I started with (including the pastures where overgrazing had occurred), and then my figures for how much forage I’d need to extend my grazing season into the winter.
Then we showcased how the soothsaying actually went based on the tendencies of our farm, my management and Mother Nature. Over 9,000 of you followed along as I tried. The planning and day to day moves were fairly predictable until the big rains in late November followed by a snowstorm on December 8th that year, which messed up the future right in front of your eyes. (Read the whole series here!)
But was it really worth the try, this hypothetical, pencil planning on a grazing chart?
Well yeah, because it forced me to measure the present, plan for what I wanted to achieve, monitor the progress, and keep a close eye on the resiliency action plan. It helped us make more money, leave our plants better and reduce the killer stress of reactionary management. That year we managed to be grazing until January 1st with some supplementation during the storms and achieved 257 grazeable days; quite a feat given our history of 180 grazeable days.
Since that season and practical application in front of my peers, we have attained 242, 240 and 222 grazeable days – a bit shorter because we are no longer wintering animals into our Christmas season. Every year is a habitual soothsaying exercise when it comes to extended grazing strategies. It’s always a new game plan. And every year the weather curve balls are always testing our resolve to manage through successfully. The process is not flawless but it will become more predictable as we use our, “intuition of place” to guide the decision-making.
My Observations and Intuition Say “Try Something Different!”
This year I am trying a different approach to the traditional 60-day-stockpile-then-graze, practice. Due to the dry spring and early summer period, I moved to 30- and 56-day recovery periods, not knowing the future but hearing it was going to be “one of those dry years.” Along about July 20th, the earlier strategy of keeping good rest and residual on the plants finally paid dividends as the rains returned in earnest and we have grown a lot of dry matter per acre. This allowed us to build our reserve earlier than normal and actually leave more quality stockpile behind. This hardly ever happens since it “usually” dries up in August. So much for predictions!
The good fortune (for now) is that the previous conservative management has allowed me to consider grazing the stockpiled forage lightly with a 33-day rest period and then finish grazing the last rotation on a 44-day rest period. This was an idea I got from my grazing mentor and friend, Brian Reaser, who suggested it a few years back as a way of building a bigger “haystack.” It never came to fruition earlier because the stockpile phase was always too dry to build that kind of forage reserve and I had too many animals.
To help me think this through, I got out my grazing chart and started planning for the future. Here’s the full grazing chart. You can click on it to see a larger version.
Once again I have measured what is happening now and what I think the future resource will be and plotted it in pencil with an end date of around December 7th.
Coincidently, I strategized this future endeavor in my mind over a vacation at the lake (also planned on the grazing chart) because I wanted some clarity as I closed my eyes in my gravity chair and deeply thought of all the possibilities that would hinder my success on the land. For me, as the potential grass whispering goat or pragmatist, the visioning and “Believing” in the process that is learned from education, mentors and your gut is of paramount importance. If you don’t believe it, what would be your true motivation? Without the belief, there is blame and no confidence in the tactical actions that can be proven from good, sound ,hands-on planning. As Yoda put it, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
Will it happen? Have I predicted well and listened to my intuition about tendencies? The best part of OnPasture.com is you will be able to see what happens once again. My question to this audience is, will you take the gamble yourself to predict your own grazing future? We’d love to share the learning and conversations in your quest.