Colorado rancher Kit Pharo offers three management principles that are key to his operation — planned rotational grazing, matching cow production cycle to forage resources and matching cow size and type to forage resources.
“Profitable ranchers make the most efficient use of the available forage resources on their ranch, he said.
Planned rotational grazing is nothing new. The reason for doing it is to reduce or eliminate supplemental feeding, he said.
The first rule of thumb is to move cattle fast when grass is growing fast and slow when grass is growing slow — don’t eat the plant more than once.
The second is to put the highest number of cattle in the smallest possible area for the shortest period of time to maximize rest periods, forage production and profit, he said.
In sync with nature
The second key practice is calving in sync with nature to provide cows with the best available forage when their nutritional requirements are highest. That cuts labor and feed costs by 70%, he said.
“It’s not profitable to fool Mother Nature,” he said.
Most ranchers calve in the winter in the worst conditions for cows and calves and when they need the most nutrition — as opposed to wildlife, which have babies in the spring, he said.
For his operation, calving in the spring has almost eliminated predator problems because there are more things for predators to eat. It’s also almost eliminated calving problems and abnormal presentations, probably because cows are more ambulatory. Overall, it’s reduced losses from death and illness, he said.
Weaning weights will go down when calving in the spring, but ranchers will be weaning more total pounds of calves that are worth more per pound, he said.
Lighter weight calves sell at a higher price per hundredweight than heavier calves.
Match cow, resources
The third principle is matching the cow to available resources so the cow can survive on what the ranch provides while producing a calf that meets the requirements of the beef industry.
On a typical ranch, at least 65% of annual cow cost is spent on feed. About 70% of what a cow can consume is strictly for maintenance, and that cost isn’t coming back. Ranchers are only getting a return on the cost of the 30% of consumption that goes to production, he said.
Cows have been bred for big calves. They’ve gotten way too big and are not adapted to their natural environment, so they have to be pampered with supplemental feed.
“I want a cow that can survive with no inputs, or very little,” he said.
He produces and selects cows that fit his environment and management practices and can live within their means. Most cow-calf producers don’t even come close to that, he said.
After selecting for cows that thrive on native shortgrass prairie, he lets the environment sort out the good ones and culls any that are open, late or dry.
“We’re in the grass-efficiency business. I want a cow that can support the ranch instead of being supported by the ranch,” he said.