How to maintain grazing profitability

By Doug Warnock

For the Capital Press

Columnist Doug Warnock discusses how ranchers can maintain their profitability.

It will soon be turn-out time and graziers may be thinking about how to improve the profit from their livestock grazing enterprise. Economic viability, or profit, is one of the three necessary criteria in achieving sustainability. Environmental soundness and social acceptability are the other two components. We cannot have sustainability without all three.

Generally we think of profit as being what is left over after all the costs are covered. Economic profit can be realized by either controlling costs or increasing returns or a combination of the two. More and more producers are realizing profit by developing special markets and direct marketing, which tends to increase returns. Certainly, achieving a reasonable level of production is part of how one obtains a profit. But production can be measured several ways.

Unless you are producing an unusually high value animal, profit is associated with the most pounds of animal produced per acre of pasture. Seeking the highest individual gain per animal is not the same.

Generally, animals make the highest gain per head when they have the ability to find the best feed, the ability to be selective. The highest gain per acre will come with a high density-and-short duration type of grazing management. In this type of management scheme, the animals are competing for the forage and they are less able to be selective as they graze.

The high density-and-short duration type of grazing requires a higher input of management and labor, so that must be considered when assessing the costs during the planning process. Planning the grazing is an important input and should not be neglected. The grazing plan needs to include the best information that can be put together on the pasture and rangeland that will be grazed.

Once the grazing plan is implemented, it is important to monitor regularly to determine how both the plants and animals are doing and when it will be time to move the animals to another area. Monitoring is an extremely valuable tool and cannot be left out of the management equation. Monitoring will reveal when the original plan must be changed due to unforeseen circumstances. Good planning plus monitoring and adjusting as the need arises, makes for successful and profitable grazing. These are the components of adaptive management.

Another form of profitability sought by many graziers is biological profit. This is the return from good management that keeps the land healthy and productive over time and contributes to sustainability. Management that limits the time of plant exposure to the grazing animals and optimizes the time of plant recovery from grazing will make for greater biological profit.

Achieving profit is a result of the management invested in the grazing enterprise. Without the component of adaptive management, profit, especially sustained profit, is difficult to achieve.

Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he writes on grazing management. He can be contacted at dwarnockgreenerpastures@gmail.com.



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