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Pasture conditions = Marketing plans

If you want to change the effects or the results you are getting we must change the cause.

Doug Ferguson

June 2, 2023

6 Min Read
Watch each Friday for Doug Ferguson's Market Intel blog on Beef Producer and BEEF magazine.VECTORBOMB-THINKSTOCKPHOTOS

One of the meteorologists in Lincoln Nebraska, said we just wrapped up the second driest month of May ever on record.  You all know how it works during dry periods, the rains are spotty.  Someone can get a nice little shower and the neighbor two miles away gets nothing.


I remember the first time I heard the word “desertification.” Desertification is the process by which fertile land becomes desert, typically as a result of drought, deforestation, or inappropriate agriculture.  I rejected the idea of this. Later I gained a better education from business coach Allan Crockett.  Allan taught me a new word “ecology,” which deals with the relations of organisms to one another in their physical surroundings.

This higher level of awareness I got from Allan helped me see things I have never seen before, and to see things in a new way.  And once a person sees something they can never unsee it, it becomes locked in.  After the education I received from him I could clearly see desertification taking place around me in Southeast Nebraska. a place that has an average annual rainfall of 31 inches.

The conditions we are in right now only serve to magnify the effects.  We have been blessed to receive a few rains here locally.  As I have been checking up on pasture conditions one thing is super clear.  The ponds that rely on runoff from crop fields have abundant water in them while the ponds that rely on runoff from the pasture itself have very little water in them. No matter how you look at this the fact is one form of agriculture captured the rain in the soil, while the other didn’t.

Biological Capital

This brings me to another term I haven’t used on here for a while, “biological capital.” I got that term out of a book written by Walt Davis. Here is how I understand biological capital. It refers to growing conditions, or the status of the ecological process in a pasture.  Does this process favor growing grass, or does it favor growing weeds?

Here is what I really like about the term biological capital, and that it sounds like money. I will briefly talk about it in my marketing schools during the inventory pyramid portion. The use of the word capital implies we must make deposits, not just withdraws.  That right there suggests management will have to change for some producers.


I used to hear the phrase “manage for what you want, not what you don’t want” and I would get frustrated.  How do I do that?  What does that actually mean? I explain it differently to people, as I have found what I am about to write applies to stockmanship, marketing, grazing and even other areas of life. That is this, it is about doing things in a certain way, not doing certain things.  And another one is that like causes produce like effects.  If you want to change the effects or the results you are getting we must change the cause.  This is a natural law of the universe.  Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to the law of cause and effect as the law of laws.

People won’t begin to do something unless they have a plan, and they usually want all the stars aligned before they even attempt to begin something.  When I got serious about improving my grazing skills I invested in books and went to grazing conferences.  I got nothing out of them.  Then one summer I worked on improving my stockmanship skills. I bought some poly wire and pigtail posts to set up cells to practice gathering and moving some cattle. The plan didn’t work too well as far as stockmanship goes because it didn’t take long for the cattle to become trained to move. The year I decided to do this was a good moisture year and that lead to abundant regrowth after I moved the cattle.  This led me to have different questions.  I went back and reread the books I had and this time they educated me.

Thanks to the advice from Allan I run my cattle in two herds now.  One group is run on a large pasture with no infrastructure. The results I get there are like everyone else’s. The other group is rotated regularly using poly wires. This was a huge paradigm shift for me because I used to think poly wire and pigtails were the stupidest thing ever.  Now I look at them as a great investment.

Smaller grazing areas

With the use of poly wire I can confine my cattle to smaller grazing areas. This has led to many things happening. I have seen hard pans improve, soil permeability improved, greater plant diversity, there is less bare ground between clumps of grass because grass is growing in those areas now.  And get this one, there used to always be those areas that had weeds. The landowner used to go out there on an ATV and spray them. After I started using the poly wires which lead to herd effect the weeds were completely trampled.  A few years later they quit coming in as thick and grass replaced them. Think of that, no chemical or labor costs for spraying and I am now growing grass in those areas.  All these things are possible because I made a deposit instead of just withdraws. The interest accrued from that deposit has been outstanding. Not to mention when you use a chemical you can only use it once and it’s gone.  I can reuse the poly wires and pigtails year after year.

Some people around here will give my wife a hard time about all the grass I leave behind, telling her I am wasting it. They never say anything to me about it.  Here’s the thing, it takes grass to grow grass.  Because I left some last year, I have some this year even in these dry conditions. When people say things like this to her, we just take it as acknowledgement we are on the right path.

Doing these things in a certain way will not be a silver bullet and allow you to run your ranch at capacity no matter what. They will however help alleviate the burden of a drought when it com

Cattle Market Review

This short marketing week created a shake up in the Value of Gain (VOG). While cattle under 600 pounds held onto a strong VOG the weight classes above that saw turbulence.  VOG on these weights varied from one auction to the next and could be in positive territory to well into below positive territory.  When I calculate the VOG from four weights to nine weights the heifers clearly have the best VOG through the spectrum and are in positive territory meaning it is paying to put weight on them. The steers however have a VOG of a dollar to slightly above a dollar. This will depend on what your Cost of Gain is as to whether it pays to put weight on them or not.  This underscores how cost is the fulcrum on the lever that determines price relationships.  It has been a long-held belief that if we keep costs low we can have low break evens and have a chance at making money.  With sell/buy marketing we do not calculate break evens, we do math to determine what the profitable relationships are and that is when cost becomes a factor as to what is over or under-valued to what we have.

The opinions of Doug Ferguson are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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