Back when I was starting to raise meat chickens, I went online and looked for plans for the chicken tractor recommended by a pretty famous person in the farm world. You can find the directions all over the internet. I built one, I used it, and at the end of my first year of raising meat chickens I was incredibly grateful to the bear that came into the pasture and smashed it to pieces.
It was a horrid contraption! It was heavy, even though I’d redesigned it with lighter materials so two women could move it. Bending over to feed, water and clean chickens was tiring and gross (think face near chicken poop). The second year’s hoop house was a lot cheaper and easier to move around. It was also nice to be able to walk inside, see the birds to check on their health, and there was the added bonus of being able to hang waterers and feeders off the ground to reduce some of the mess they made.
I’m telling you this not just for the lesson about chicken tractors, but because it points out something else I’ve learned in the last 20 years: the most famous person isn’t necessarily the best advisor for your grazing operation. I’ve read and heard countless stories of people inspired by a charismatic speaker, who go on to try to recreate that exact same system and then end up overworked, underpaid, and stressed out.
What does that mean for you?
Each successful grazier has a history and a set of resources that informs their ideas about what works. So, while being inspired by a great speaker is all well and good, it’s critical to compare their resources with your own and then adjust accordingly. Maybe you didn’t inherit a nice swath of grazing land. Maybe you can’t afford to purchase your own slaughterhouse, so your meat processing is harder to get and more expensive. And, maybe, at least at first, you’re not famous enough to attract folks who want to work for free just to learn about farming.
So how do you go about thinking through what works for you? I think Marc and Cheryl Cesario are a great example. Like so many of us, they were inspired by a famous farmer. Following the “recipe” they tried to expand and run a multi-enterprise grazing operation. When overwork and stress took them to their breaking point, they stopped, took a look at the resources they had and what they were good at. Then they restructured their business to reflect their strengths, weaknesses and resources. If, like they ended up doing, you can start with a clear picture of what you have and what you can reasonably do, you’re ahead of the game.
Becoming well-read is another good choice.
Reading just one author might not give you a well-rounded picture for your dream grazing operation. I recommend checking out John Marble’s “Grazier’s Bookshelf.” One author he includes that I especially recommend is Greg Judy. His operation was built on leased land – something that could be more appropriate for those of us without family farms to move onto. I’ll also add my favorite book for beginning farmers: Start Your Farm: The Authoritative Guide to Becoming a Sustainable 21st Century Farmer. You can read my review of it here.
And of course there’s the whole On Pasture library of about 3,000 articles with my curated selection of the best practices.
Finally, it’s always helpful to get examples from regular folks who are working through the same struggles you’re facing. For that, I recommend Jenn Colby’s “Choosing to Farm” podcast. Jenn’s mission is to help graziers be successful and lead fulfilling lives. You can learn more about goal-setting in this piece she wrote for On Pasture. If you’d like more, you can also join her Farmer/Rancher Success Hub. The Success Hub subscription includes a monthly live teaching session on a success topic, a workbook to help practice those skills, and live group calls to discuss what comes up as you practice.
There you go! I hope all this helps with your grazing education.
Thanks for reading!