Change in geography presents challenges, new plant species for farm to manage
By DOUG WARNOCK
For the Capital Press
It has been five years since Robert and Cheryl Cosner moved their family and livestock operation from Centerville, Wash., to Weston, Ore., and they think it would have been very difficult without their grounding in holistic management.
"We didn't think it was going to be much of a transition, but it was more of a change than we thought," Robert Cosner said.
"Without our grounding in holistic financial planning, the change could have been a disaster," Cheryl Cosner said.
Holistic management is a decision-making process that helps people manage for sustainability and make decisions that are economically viable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable. It's based on working toward the achievement of the manager's long-term goal.
Holistic financial planning is one of its planning procedures that emphasizes controlling costs, getting the most return from money spent and increasing profits. It includes monthly monitoring to ensure that any deviations from the plan are identified soon enough to correct.
In September 2004, the Cosners moved from the family farm near Centerville in Klickitat County, Wash., to a 2,100-acre ranch in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in Eastern Oregon. Since they were moving to an area with a higher rainfall, they didn't believe the transition would be hard to make, but it was more than anticipated.
"The elevation of our land ranges from 1,200 feet to 3,400 feet and the annual precipitation varies from 17 to over 22 inches. We found the plant communities are different here," said Robert Cosner.
"The bottom line, profit, is the producer's report card," Cheryl Cosner said. "If you go into the red, you've failed the course."
The Cosner family operation includes 240 Coopworth ewes, carryover lambs and new crop lambs -- around 700 sheep total. They also run 40 to 60 Angus cows and calves and 65 to 70 goats.
They said they have made progress in improving the plant communities on their rangeland. The populations of such weeds as burdock, Hound's tongue, mustard, Scotch thistle, lambsquarters and pigweed have been significantly reduced, and in some cases, essentially eliminated.
Perennial grasses are coming back and both forage quality and quantity have increased. This was accomplished by adding interior cross fencing to establish more paddocks and by planned grazing.
They added some New Zealand-type fences and are making use of portable electric fencing, including some electric netting.
The Cosners have also done some spring water development, which helped foster better grazing distribution.
One of their challenges has been predation of the sheep by coyotes, cougars and bears.
"Coyotes have been the worst," Robert Cosner said. "But they are discouraged by hot fences and tend to leave them alone."
Another big challenge is improving the forage. While their management has changed the plant community favorably, it lacks an adequate population of legumes. They plan to inter-seed some legume into the grass stand and they're considering alfalfa, sanfoin and some other legume species.
Doug Warnock, retired after 35 years as an extension agent with Washington State University, consults and writes on ranch and farm management.