Monday, May 27, 2024
HomeGrazier's Focus of the MonthSuccess and Profit - Are you getting where you hope to be?

Success and Profit – Are you getting where you hope to be?

This week’s collection is was inspired by a conversation I had with a young friend who is trying to figure out how to expand her business. It made me think of the kind of math that I saw many farmers and ranchers.

Doing the Math – Off-farm jobs, Yes or No?

The article below shows one grazier doing the math for his own operation. In it, you’ll find lots of links to On Pasture articles that build on his discussion. I hope they’ll inspire you as you consider your own operation.

Finally, I add some outside resources to get you headed in the right direction. These are organizations and folks who I really trust and who have helped lots of folks just like you grow successful grazing operations.

There’s no need to rush through this collection because it’s big enough to last you a couple of weeks. I did this on purpose because I’ll be out of the office next week and wanted you to have plenty to tide you over.


In the February 2022 articles, Thinking Grazier and Notes from Kathy, we looked at the idea of sizing our operations to fit our vision and goals. Both John Marble and Troy Bishopp shared their personal thoughts behind why they had expanded their operations with leased pastures, and then whey they chose to let those leases go and downsize again. I talked about the cultural influences that make us, at least as Americans, think that bigger is better. All of that was to help us think about what we want and how to get there.

Increasing the size and scale of your operation might be the right answer for you. Or you might find, as John Marble describes in this 2:39 video, that there are other ways to run your business and increase profit that don’t require more leased pastures or purchased land. In the transcript below, I’ve added some information and links to help you think about what your options are. Enjoy!


I’m John Marble. I have a small grazing and marketing operation in western Oregon.

Why did you come to the Ranching for Profit School?

I came looking for some help. I was in trouble. I didn’t know how desperate the trouble was at that time. I thought I was looking for ways to expand the operation. But it turned out that was maybe the last thing I needed to do. I had really severe problems with overheads that needed to be addressed. We had lots and lots of hay equipment, farming equipment and problems like that to overcome.

What did you expect to work on when you repeated the school?

When I came back to the school, I thought I was trying to solve the same problem, which was the problem of scale, and it turned out, as we got into the material the second time around, my problem was really that my economic theory was just too weak. The last thing I needed was to get more cows, get more units. Because I wasn’t making enough on any particular one of those to dig my way out of the hole that I was in. So we had already addressed most of the overhead problems. We’d gotten rid of a lot of scrap iron and then when I went home the second time it was to try and work to develop different things that I could possibly do with cattle and grass that would have a much higher margin.

So after the second school, we had made good progress on the overheads already, and we started working on other models that would produce better margin, better gross margin. And experimented with a lot of different things, including custom grazing and buying and selling different types of cattle and just doing different things with cattle and grass. And over time were able to really start working on scale and finding different ways to increase scale.

The three secrets to ranching for profit are:

1. Reducing overheads

2. Increasing gross margin per unit

3. Increasing turn over.

Now, Let’s Talk Options

One of the first things graziers talk about is reducing overheads in the form of equipment that just isn’t necessary once you start focusing on simply grazing instead of raising hay. That was an easy first step for John. The next steps were more difficult.

First he had to figure out how to increase his gross margin per unit. If you’re not familiar with this concept, John wrote a great article on it some time back. Not only does he explain the gross margin per unit concept, but he also lays out a good list to start with when you’re thinking about how to get there. Here’s the list he jotted down for his fellow ranchers:

These are just a few possibilities, all focused on reducing the cost per unit with a goal of increasing profit. When I spoke with John recently, he had some additions to this list:

“Stop retaining heifers. Buy proper replacement cows instead. If you simply must retain heifers, select some of your bulls for modest milk and frame.”

John also talked about custom grazing and buying and selling different kinds of cattle. Both are ways of making money with livestock and grass, and both require a certain skill level. For example, custom grazing requires developing a sound understanding and agreement that protects both parties. Buying and selling requires a solid understanding of your market and the ability to look at livestock and figure out what it takes to buy low and sell high. You can get a hint of that from his piece “These Might Be the Best Cows.

Want More?

I’m retired now and I won’t be here forever. These are resources I recommend to move you along on your success journey.

Attend a Ranching For Profit School

Every single person I’ve spoken to has said that attending an RFP school made all the difference in the world to their business and quality of life. (And I’m not being paid to advertise this. I’m just reporting back to you.) The school helps you focus on answering the questions that Dallas posed in his Recipe for Success article and provides participants with the tools they need to move forward. Yes, there’s a cost involved, but you can never go wrong investing in yourself. Here’s where to go to learn more about the school.

To give you a flavor of what you can expect, sign up for the free introductory lessons and their ProfitTips newsletter.

Take time to figure out your goals and what you want your life to look like.

Check out On Pasture’s collection of goal setting articles for examples from fellow farmers and ranchers of their visions for their farms/ranches and how they are adjusting their businesses to meet them. Many of the articles are open access. Enjoy!

Check in With Greg Judy

Greg has put together all kinds of learning opportunities for graziers. Registration for this year’s grazing schools is closing soon, so if you’re interested, get signed up quickly. His Youtube channel has TONS of how-to information. And, if you haven’t read his books, you ought to. His first, “No Risk Ranching,” describes how he went from dead broke in 1999 to running a successful grazing operation on leased land and leaving his town job. His second, “Comeback Farms,” takes up where “No Risk Ranching” leaves off. He shares how to add sheep, goats and pigs to existing operations, and how to revitalize tired pastures with good grazing management. I helped edit the latest, “How to Think Like a Grazier: Inspiration, Mentors, and Getting It Done.” I think it’s especially important because he shares the traits he’s nurtured in himself to create success.

You can sign up for Greg and Jan Judy’s email list here. They share information about their latest videos, livestock sales, and products and techniques that make their lives as graziers better.

Check in with Jenn Colby

Jenn Colby has spent over 25 years helping livestock farmers find success and quality of life through non-profit, academic, Extension, and community roles. She writes, farms, consults, and hosts the Choosing to Farm podcast from her home base of Howling Wolf Farm in Vermont.

Jenn Colby is a certified Canfield Success Principles instructor and is coaching folks just like you on figuring out what they want to do and how to get there. She is also the host of the Choosing to Farm Podcast, a great resource for learning from the experiences of others and connecting to tools to improve your likelihood of success. Her goal, just like mine when I started On Pasture, is to ensure there are more farmers and ranchers in the world who are whole, healthy, profitable, and managing the land and their lives well. You can get a feel for Jenn and her work in this article.

I’m working with Jenn on another “Vision Quest” online workshop on May 30. I don’t have all the details yet, so to stay in the loop, visit Jenn’s website and sign up for her emails. You’ll also find some of the courses she’s currently offering. (Hint: for those of you considering adding farm stays to your operation, she’s got a great course based on her own success at Howling Wolf Farm.)

Invest in Yourself

You pay for your education one way or another – either through experiences or through courses, workshops, and materials like those I describe above. Personally, I find the experience-based learning opportunities to be a bit more painful and often more expensive. Just a thought.

Enough Seriousness. Let’s Laugh!

This Math Teacher Makes It Fun to Go to Class

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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.

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