Thursday, July 18, 2024
HomeGrazing ManagementA Path to Becoming a Successful Grazier

A Path to Becoming a Successful Grazier

The leaves on your plant are like the alternator on your car. And the roots are the battery – they story energy. The leaves take in energy with photosynthesis and they store it in the roots.

So when you season-long graze, the cows come along and bite it off every day, day after day. It’s like sitting in your car and hitting the starter and eventually your battery goes dead and your car ain’t gonna go nowhere.

Your plants are the same way. If you just bite ’em off every day, your roots will finally die. Your battery is dead. Your storage is gone.

That’s why I got away from season-long grazing and went to mob-grazing where I only graze on a piece one or two days and get moved on.

Charlie Totten
Chamberlain, South Dakota

In this 7:04 minute video, Charlie Totten shares what has made him a successful grazier – it’s his knowledge of how plants function, and how to manage grazing to help plants and livestock grow well.

His inspiration for heading down this path was working for his uncles on a crop farm and watching the soil wash and blow. “It was the God-Awfulest thing I was ever involved in,” he says. So he decided to find a better way – starting with learning about plants and winning his high school range judging competition.

Over the course of his career, Charlie has continued learning about what makes things work. The “Bootstraps” program, helped him figure out how to be the most efficient operator he could be at a time when lots of ranches were going broke. Pasture walks and bus trips to see what was working for others added to his experience. Finally, attending the South Dakota Range School helped him make the switch to mob-grazing. He says he learned a lot about plant ID, pasture usage, and how to get the most out of his natural resources while improving them at the same time.

Over the years he’s also spent time observing what the plants and cattle are doing. “It’s an eye opener when you watch cows every day and find out that what you think is great ain’t what the cow thinks is great.” He’s found his cows love weeds, so he no longer has to use chemicals to control them.

Charlie also points out the value of working with Extension and Natural Resources Conservation Service staff, as well as many others, to gather information about his grazing resources to help him make good decisions based on his ranch’s potential. In the final frames of the video you’ll see all the folks Charlie has worked with – and it’s a long list!

The result of all this education, observation, and working with partners – the Totten ranch has extended it’s grazing season and only feeds 2 months in the winter compared to the 5 or 6 they used to feed.

How Can You Use This?

You might start by considering Charlie’s description of the importance of rest to your pastures, and how that works in your operation. Then, think about the courses you can attend and the partners in your area who can help you achieve your goals. You can start by contacting your local NRCS office. They can help point you to others that can provide assis tance – often at no charge to you. You can also check out the On Pasture Events Calendar for pasture walks, workshops, and other educational events. (Have an event to add? Click here.)

If you’ve got examples of partnerships that have helped you and your fellow farmers and ranchers succeed, do share them in the comments below.

More Charlie Totten

You’ve met Charlie Totten in On Pasture articles before. Here are links to those stories:

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. “In the larger scheme of things you have to be protecting your land or we’re all in trouble.”

    Mr. Charlie Totten, you have caused me to ponder how lucky we are to be able to at least attempt to do what you are doing. And you have also brought little tiny tears to the corners of my eyes.

    Thank you sincerely,

    John Marble
    Crawfordsville Oregon

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