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Some Dos and Don’ts of Setting Up a Grazing Operation

By   /  December 9, 2019  /  1 Comment

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I want to discuss the steps that we focus on when designing a new grazing operation on a new farm, starting with this saying:

“If you have a lot of money, act like you don’t.”

(If you don’t have a bunch of money ignore this.)

The point is, being successful in a previous career is no guarantee that you will be a successful grazier. I know of ranches that went broke before livestock were ever brought onto the farm simply because they over spent on the wrong items.

South poll cow, adapted to our environment, with her calf.

With that in mind, the number one thing I look for in designing a profitable grazing operation is how to create cash flow as quickly as possible. The property that you are controlling needs to be paying you back every single day possible. Cash flow starts with the first bite of forage that is ripped off by a ruminant’s tongue from the plant that it was grown on. The animal is the harvester which is fed by solar energy from the sun which is being collected by green growing leaves. Folks we have a huge advantage here – no tillage, no seeding, no mowing, no machinery payments at the bank, no rust, no depreciation. Just animals getting fat and raising offspring on grass.

Start By Setting Your Animals Up for Safe Grazing

Your first concern in setting up a grazing property is keeping the animals there. Your neighbors don’t want them on their property, and you don’t want them there either! The road hazards of someone hitting an animal is an extreme liability. Bottom line, your animals need to be safe, which means a really good perimeter fence. Never skimp by with a questionable perimeter fence. If in doubt add an extra wire. You want to sleep well at night knowing that your animals are safe, right where you left them.

With our multiple leased farms over the years, the first fence we focus on is an extra secure perimeter fence. This is one of the best investments you can make on your farm. I’m not talking about painted board fence to impress your neighbors. We use a tight, multi-wire, electric, hi-tensile fence that has a minimum of 8,000 volts flowing through it. No steel posts are used anywhere on the farm with an electric fence system, because every steel post is a potential ground rod and can make keeping a fence hot almost impossible.

I wrote about how I set up my high-tensile in this On Pasture article:

Some folks don’t trust hot wire fences. Past experiences with electric fences have left a bad taste in their mouth. I was one of those very same folks many years ago. I’ve since learned differently and today, a well built electric fence with well trained, non-hungry animals is the backbone of our operation today.

Water Your Livestock

Now that we have a secure perimeter fence, our next step is to brainstorm a water supply. The first thing we look at for water supply is existing ponds or potentially building a small pond. Maybe there is a water meter or well on the property. Creeks or springs can make good water supplies if you protect them from livestock entering them. (Explore these articles from On Pasture for ideas on setting up your watering system.)

Photo courtesy of extension.org

In the worst case scenario, where you have no water on the property, you can start grazing immediately if you want to haul water to the animals. As an example, I have a Youtube follower that has a 12,000 acre free lease, no water. He is making an extremely good living, with a very large herd of goats, hauling water every day to them. This same free lease was passed over by every other farmer around the neighborhood because it had no water. This guy brainstormed a way to make an excellent living from that ranch. My hat is off to him! If you have a free lease and are willing to work at it, these situations pay huge dividends.

Feed Your Stock

Now we have our perimeter fence in and we’ve figured out a water source, cash flow starts as soon as the animals are brought in. Go after the low hanging fruit first – put them in the best pastures with the most available forage using polybraid on reels and step-in posts.

Do not waste precious time and resources building a bunch of interior permanent paddocks around your farm. For the first year or two it is hugely advantageous to have larger paddocks until you figure out exactly where it might make sense to run permanent wire. Over the last couple years, I have ripped out fences that were erected where they did not belong. They were a complete hindrance to daily grazing moves. Gosh, it feels good to have them out of my life.

Learn more about all the benefits I saw from ripping out internal fences:

One more Do – Do limit the number of gates on your farm. Every gate requires at least two corner posts and these areas get too much animal traffic through them. This results in gate areas turning into mud holes in the wet season.

Handling Facilities for Your Stock

Some folks may be thinking about now that ole Greg jumped the gun a bit in bringing in livestock. Heck, he doesn’t even have a place to catch them if he needs to sort something out.

The holding area, catch, or corral, whichever you want to call it, is where I see the biggest mistakes made. You would not believe the immaculate corral systems that I have encountered over the years. One particular corral system had five acres of steel and wooden sorting pens. This farm at one time had about 200 head of cows on it. Why in the world you would need five acres of sorting pens seven feet tall is beyond me. If you have to make a corral seven feet tall to keep your animals from jumping out of it, you’ve got the wrong cows. (We call those hamburger cows from my custom grazing days. We had a few of them and they leave lasting memories in your soul.) Folks, all you need is a way to load them. Heck, you can always haul an animal that needs medical care back to your head catch or to the vet.

One particular corral that I will never forget had around $500,000 invested in its construction. I’ve never seen one that looked like it since. It had 2 acres under roof, full pot load pen with a massive cattle scale under it. Huge steel pens everywhere with concrete floors. Zero cash flow coming out this monstrosity. That person could have used that same money and bought 500 late bred cows that would have had calves on the ground in a short period of time. Boom, cash flow!

We do 90% of our sorting on pasture with a piece of polybraid wire that the cattle 100% respect. Just sort out the animals you want and walk them back to a catch area to load. The catch area can be several cattle panels wired to some steel posts with a gate. I’m talking our own personal cows that respect our presence and walk right into a trailer. If you spend some time with your animals, you can do the same with them. Just remember that corrals do not generate cash flow, cows removing grass blades with their tongues do.

In wrapping up, just remember that the livestock do not ask for all this stuff that we think they need. All they need is protection (good perimeter fence), a good supply of forage, and water. Also if you have plenty of capital at the start of your grazing business, act like you don’t. This will keep you from throwing money at everything and wanting the best of everything that folks say you need. Taking some time to think is always a good virtue. Cultivate it to prevent impulse spending around the farm.

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About the author

contributor

Greg and Jan Judy of Clark, Missouri run a grazing operation on 1400 acres of leased land that includes 11 farms. Their successful custom grazing business is founded on holistic, high-density, planned grazing. They run cows, cow/calf pairs, bred heifers, stockers, a hair sheep flock, a goat herd, and Tamworth pigs. They also direct market grass-fed beef, lamb and pork. Greg's popularity as a speaker and author comes from his willingness to describe how anyone can use his grazing techniques to create lush forage, a sustainable environment and a successful business.

1 Comment

  1. Grass Whisperer says:

    I would start with some kind of business plan first.
    “I know of ranches that went broke before livestock were ever brought onto the farm simply because they over spent on the wrong items.”

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