Identifying natural systems and learning to correctly relate those systems one to another have dramatically improved our ranching operation in the past decade.
My old friend karma has been harsh to remind me: If you break the rules and do not incorporate the principles into your operation all of the time, the principles will break you.
Much of what I have learned I do not plan to forget. Here are 15 principles I have learned and paid for in thousands of dollars, sweat and disappointment.
1. Pastures must be continually moving away from dirt and toward living soil.
2. Highly diversified and thick, tall warm-season grasses (C4) with wide blades need to predominate. Under the tall grass, you want a thickening of medium and short C4’s with enough cool season grasses (C3) to have some fall, winter and early spring green in the understory. The water cycle is now working.
3. Cattle must fit the environment and with almost no exceptions need to be a frame score of 2 or smaller east of Oklahoma City. West and north of there, frame scores of 3 or less.
4. Monitor and respond considering roadside forage blends, cattle fullness, grazing activity, urine pH, colloidal saturation, response to lime, Brix level, manure, macrobe activity, plant regrowth, litter and soil moisture.
5. Become proactive. Constantly plan and graze to create a standing "haystack" for winter and for drought.
6. Stock the ranch for winter carrying capacity.
7. Supplement the cattle before they look like they need supplementation. Cattle can handle slow weight loss, but not fast. Cows need to be gaining condition and weight to breed and conceive.
8. Plan for water, shade and weather extremes.
9. Identify your biggest expenses and extremely reduce or completely eliminate them. Wage war on big expenses.
10. Completely recover pastures before grazing and increase animal density and decrease grazing time on the all land. Partial rest is the greatest enemy to soil health, plant health and stocking rate. Each acre should be free of cattle 355 days per year.
11. Solar energy (sunshine) from plants should be 98% of the cattle business. Wrap the sunshine in the highest market package for your environment and time commitment. Cattle gains must be extremely low cost.
12. Time of marketing is more important than price. Plant health, days of haystack and soil health are more important than price.
13. Make a 300-pound rule: All purchased calves need to gain 300 pounds for 30% of the sell price. Cost of gain includes rent, supplement, water, fencing, other infrastructure, equipment, fuel, fertilizer, lime, buildings, interest, vaccine, wormer, labor, weed and brush control -- everything.
14. Drought-proof and winter-proof your ranch with emphasis on soil health, plant health, animal health and your economic health. Allowing complete plant recovery, followed by high or ultra-high density grazing, will effectively double your farm/ranch in two to five years.
15. Accumulate money every year to the tune of 20% or more in profits. A profit of $100 per acre should be the minimum in two to five years after the adoption of holistic planned grazing. Cattle and land are the money accumulators in ranching.
In summary, the cattle business is simple: lots of good grass, highly marketable appreciating cattle, good water, deep shade, an effective means of cattle control, a small used truck, and just about nothing else. Toys will drain the ranch's lifeblood. Replace the toys with the right mentors and friendships. Enjoy life.
“The toughest thing about being a success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success.” -- Irving Berlin