I have been reading Troy Bishopp’s articles on how to fit grazing around your life rather than building your life around your grazing operation (What’s a Grazing Decision Worth and Where Are You, Where Do You Want to Be and How Do You Get There?). Troy writes about planning camping trips, vacations, and time with his grandchildren. I think he is spot on in his thinking. It is very common in agriculture to forget that there is life outside ranching. As a person who grew up with parents who owned a trucking company, I dare say being consumed by your business occurs outside of agriculture as well.
If you’ve been following Troy’s articles then you know he puts a great deal of emphasis on the grazing chart. Without a plan, like what you have with a grazing chart, it is pretty difficult to ensure you make time for a life outside of grazing. The question then becomes “How do I get there?” Just because you plan to vacation from July 1 to July 8 doesn’t mean the logistics of your operation will allow you to take that time away. Of course, you could just take the time, but personally I would rather take time off and come back to an operation that is still running smoothly.
Using a Grazing Chart to Plan for Time Off
Troy and others have espoused the value of using a grazing chart to plan for life outside of ranching. I wholeheartedly agree and have been using a grazing chart to help plan my life for over twenty years. I would be lost without it. We’ll take a closer look at how to set up and use a grazing chart in future issues of On Pasture, but for now, let me show you how I use a chart.
In an earlier article for On Pasture I wrote about grazing in the sweet spot. In it I describe the two concepts driving grass production and the economic engine of every grass-based operation: Recovery Period and Graze Period. When I’m working on my grazing chart, I pencil out where the herd will be when, based on Graze Periods and Recovery Periods that work for my operation. For me that means a graze period of about three days in each of my pastures during May/June. That changes in August to about 5-7 days, because grass regrowth slows thanks to changes in moisture and daylight at the northern latitude where I live.
Since I know that’s what is likely to happen, I can my grazing chart to plan my vacations in August because the animals will be in one paddock for a longer period.
But, for me, there’s more to it than just having a plan.
Sometimes, you need help.
Early in my ranching journey I realized labor was the biggest factor limiting growth and enjoyment of life. Sure I enjoyed ranching, but that was all I was doing. Further, I was going to bed every night exhausted! There was no time for anything except work. Thank heavens for Heather & Tiffany.
Heather is the daughter of friends who lived in town and Tiffany was Heather’s best friend. The two girls started coming for the summer when they were 12 and 13. They were goofy, creative, up for anything, and hard working. The three of us had a blast together!
Heather and Tiffany taught me that for ranching to work for them, everything had to be set up so they could do it. Gates had to be easy to open. Paddock moves had to be simple. Equipment had to be light. Basically, things had to be set up so a 12-year-old could do it. It was those summers that got me started questioning everything I did. To this day, every time I have work to do, I ask myself, “Could a 12-year-old do this?” If the answer is no then I either change it or I stop doing it.
The cool thing about having your operation simple enough for a 12-year-old to run is that an 80-year-old can run it as well.
Once I started making changes it only took two years to get to the point where the two girls could run the day to day operations of the ranch. In fact, our family went on a week-long horse trip to the mountains and left the two girls to run the ranch. We hadn’t expanded yet, but the girls still had 80 cow/calf combo’s (their words not mine), 50 pastured hogs, and 30 ewes with lambs to look after.
It was a joy to come home and find everything in order. It was an even bigger joy to see the pride Heather and Tiffany had for having done a great job while we were gone. Certainly, those two girls were exceptional, but what really made their success possible was that the operation was set up to be easy, simple, and fun.
Want an example of how to make something work for a 12-year-old? Here’s Tom’s fencing recipe:
Making Your Workday Easier Also Makes It Easier to Work On Your Business
It is now my firm belief that if you routinely ask yourself the question, “Can a 12-year-old do this?” in two or three years you will have the time to enjoy life outside of ranching. It’s also a great way to free up time to begin Working on the Business.
Ranching For Profit teaches the difference between working in the business (WITB) versus working on the business (WOTB). Working In The Business is the day to day operations of running a ranch. Working On The Business involves goal setting, planning, creating a vision for your life, etc. To get to WOTB work, the WITB work needs to be reduced. In my experience, the question “Can a 12-year-old do this?” is a very effective tool to get yourself to a place where WOTB is easy to incorporate into your day.
Easier Workdays and a Grazing Chart Make Life Better
The two ideas I have shared help me maintain a much better balance between life and work. It may seem corny, but by asking the question “Can a 12-year-old do this?” I was able to set up a custom grazing operation of 3000 yearlings that only took six hours of work per day. Once that state was achieved, we had fun-filled summers of lake days, poker nights with neighbors, fishing trips, personal development courses, laying in the grass, etc. The funny thing is it wasn’t difficult to get there. It just took some conscious intention and then the motivation to make changes.
As Troy points out in his articles, life is too short and too fickle to work it away. I hope that what I’ve shared here will help you approach grazing so that you have a life outside of work too.