In December On Pasture featured two graziers who are making changes to their grazing operations to create more time and better lives for themselves and their families. With the death of his brother as a catalyst, Troy Bishopp began managing for growing more grass and using it to have more “grandchildren days.” John Marble is opting for turning to custom grazing and letting go of rental properties that cost him lots of time without adding a great deal to his bottom line. For both, these changes make economic sense too.
Though this idea of a better life with grazing resonates with so many graziers, getting there can be a challenge. So, starting now and into the spring, we’re going to explore how Troy, John and others like them are working on figuring it out. We’ll provide examples, resources, and a variety of ways to work on creating your own answers to these questions. We’ll also take you through ways to set up your grazing management so it meets not just your landscape, forage, soil and animal production needs, but your profit and personal life goals as well. If you have questions or suggestions along the way, do send them on!
When you’re charting a course there are three things you need to know: Where you are, where you want to be, and options for getting from here to there. Today, Troy Bishopp is our example for thinking about where you want to be, taking a look at where you are, and then taking steps to move from the here and now to the better future.
Troy knew he needed a vision to work toward with his family.
The Bishopp Family Farm came up with an overarching set of goals to serve them into the future:
We strive for a stress-free life. We want our topsoil covered by diverse pastures harvested by animals, thus recycling solar energy and activating biological life to provide a sustainable profit. We want to regenerate our community with local food. We want to create a savannah for wildlife. We want to create a place for the next generation to thrive.
This isn’t something that just popped into Troy’s head one day. It took a lot of time and thought and conversations with his family. They started by asking questions based on the holistic management decision-making matrix. He says he likes it because it addresses the triple bottom line (financial, environmental, social) and the 4 ecosystem processes (water, mineral, solar and diversity) which work in wholes.
We’ll go into the kinds of questions you can ask yourself as you think through your own vision and goals in future issues. But for now, let’s just see how Troy explains here how he manages his grazing operation based on this vision:
“Going phrase by phrase you can see how certain items/practices translate well to our planned grazing chart. Here’s what having this vision means about how I manage my landscape and my operation:
“We strive for a stress-free life. – Taking vacations, not calving in the winter, controlled breeding times, monitoring forage inventory and rainfall, increase grazing days over feeding hay, moving fences not machinery, predictable cash-flow with contract grazing.
“We want our topsoil covered by diverse pastures harvested by animals, thus recycling solar energy and activating biological life to provide a sustainable profit. – No plowing, No haying just grazing, proper plant recovery times, manure placement through grazing practices, nutrient management planning, build wealth through increased organic matter and microbe proliferation.
“We want to regenerate our community with local food. – Produce products from grazing animals
“We want to create a savannah for wildlife.– Fallowing land for bird habitat, enhancing riparian areas, create hedgerows and plant trees, stockpiling pasture, hunting lease and being organic.
“We want to create a place for the next generation to thrive. – Keep topsoil covered at all times, minimize debt, build soil fertility, planning around family time, simple fencing and gravity water systems and adding diverse farm enterprises.
Where Am I Now? And What Changes Do I Need to Make?
Knowing where you are involves taking a look at your business and collecting some actual data on costs, income, time spent doing things and more. Speaking to the Quebec Farmer’s Association in a recent webinar, Troy describes the information he gathered and how it helped him figure out what he should stop doing and what he should focus on instead. You might recognize some of your own frustrations and problems in what he talks about. In the transcript below, I’ve highlighted examples of the information he gathered to figure out where he was and to help you think about what you might need to work on.
(Note, some adult language ahead!)
Andrew McClelland: How did you go about making those probably painful decisions as to what you would downsize? Did you have to give up the rented land or not? Or which customers? Which grazing customers would you give up? Would you have to give up winter feeding or not? How did you come up with, like a concrete plan to say, like, what if we get rid of these things, we’ll be able to actually take time off live like normal people with vacation, and maybe enjoy our lives more? How did you make up that plan?
Troy Bishopp: I’m going to admit to you that just because I’m a financial adviser’s son, doesn’t make me a great businessman. So to make good decisions, you need good information. Just on a wintering front, for eight years, we were wintering cows. We were basically an all-year operation. We were wintering cows, and then those same cows would be grazing and so forth. We made money in the summer, and we made no money in the winter.
And I kept saying to my father, my financial guy, “Hey, we’re doing okay.”
And he said, “Well, why don’t you track your labor? What are you billing your tractor out at?” and so forth, and so on.
So I kept track of it on my grazing chart, you know, the hours, every day you start to tractor you do these things, and the yardage that you got in the handling of the bales, whatever it was.
It was a loss. So, it’s easy:
Except, when you decide to change the direction, it affects your customer, and your customer leaves. So, you make a conscious decision to consider, “Hey, we’re not making any money, unless you’re gonna pay us more. Or we can get more efficient or whatever.”
Then the rented land, the rent was getting too high. The land that we got was marginal. We’ve been renting it for, like 20 years. And we had a few grazing customers that were slow payers.
And who needs to have rental property? You’re running around, right? When I get done work, I come and I move cows. Then on the weekends, you’re moving, you’re driving around the rental farms. They’re like five to 10 miles away. On the weekends, if you want to take off, you have to worry about these other properties. So your stress, not just the financial considerations, you’re like, “What the hell do I need the stress for?”
So when when we looked at the ledger, the financial ledger and getting our time back for this camping and grandchildren days, we basically traded and we concentrated, better management, more focused on our own property with our best customer.
Oh, you could say, “well, it’s a wash,” except we got our time back. We didn’t have the stress of worrying about other properties. In the middle of the night, you know, stuff can happen, because the rental property is over next to college town. Drunk people pee on the fence. Or they throw beer cans or they wreck. Right? And you have custom graze cattle over there. It’s a shit show. It could be, right? And you have to live with that.
So when you go on vacation for a few days, the worry is basically paralyzing. We had known because of my brother’s death and his funeral week where we reflected on it, we don’t need that kind of stress. We’re in our middle 50s. What are we doing? Do we want our time? Do we want all the money? What’s the balance?
So we again decided to come back home, really do a great job at home on our land and our management and everything else. And then we have actually added some value back on our property. We just picked up a hunting lease for twice the money. Right? So there, you’re concentrating back home instead of worrying about other properties. It was a good fit for us. Because I work plenty of hours, I don’t have to worry about putting the hours in. So with that same money, less cows, but longer recovery periods, we were able to put on more rest for these pastures and get some vacation time. This last year there were two instances where we were off for more than seven days, which is crazy in farming.
Andrew McClelland: Yeah.
Troy Bishopp: We didn’t vacation halfway around the world. We were within two hours. But the the amount of pleasure from not worrying was awesome, because you have a ton of feed, you have good fences and water and you don’t have to worry about cows being moved.
We’ve been in the business long enough to have hired help. You say, “Hey, can you move the cows? Here’s what I want you to do. Just move the fence from this post to this post every day.”
Then, when you get back after a weekend, the fences are everywhere. You’re like, “How did this happen?!” You got diagonals and you got…like what happened?!” I don’t…I just can’t. I’d just as soon put them in a big paddock, and I guess not adhere to the recipes of regenerative agriculture where you’re supposed to move cows, you know, all the time.
I’m saying “Whoa!” Step back a minute. It’s okay if your herd gets a big ass paddock for three days. It’s OK!”
Where are we now and where are we headed?
Troy’s new management plan may not be for everyone, but he’s given us a good example of how to think about what you want, where you are, and how to get to a better place. Next, we’ll look at how to build your own vision and some resources to consider as you work on that. We’ll also hear more from Troy’s discussion with the Quebec Farmer’s Association. (Here’s a BIG THANK YOU to them for letting us share the webinar with you.)
I have a team of folks working on this series, and our hope is that by the time spring grazing arrives, you’ll have a start on your vision and you’ll have some ideas about options for implementing it and how a grazing chart can help you stay on track. If you have questions, thoughts, or suggestions, do let us know in the comments below. Your input will help guide us as we go.