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Cows Are A Tool

As you increase production on a set land base without increasing the costs you are more likely to be profitable in the short term and sustainable in the long term

In Holistic Management we tend to see our cows as a tool. There are two primary functions that this tool must perform. One is to harvest the wealth, the other is to improve our land.

The primary function of our cows is to harvest the wealth. To do this a cow must graze and produce a live calf every year. The more efficiently and the cheaper she can do this the better. The less supplemental feed and high-priced inputs the cow needs the more likely she will be profitable.

The question might arise, what is a good cow? The answer is simple. A good cow is one that makes a profit. If you look at history you will find that the highest cattle prices adjusted for inflation were sometime in the early 1950s. Since then we have drastically changed our cows. On average they are bigger and much more productive. Are they more profitable? In the last 50 years have we changed our cow herd or improved our cow herd? If the herd has improved has the benefi t accrued to the cow-calf producer or to some other segment of the industry? These questions and other similar ones are things we all need to consider.

The real wealth is in the land and is expressed in the growth we achieve. Once we realize this we begin to focus our management skills on improving our land. The landscape portion of our holistic goal will express what we desire our land to look like in the short term to be profitable and in the long term to be sustainable. Many people express the desire to leave the land better than they found it. Wouldn’t this be a wonderful legacy to leave for future generations? Over time our land becomes more and more fertile and production increases. This is achieved by improving the land, not by purchasing inputs. It is obvious that as you increase production on a set land base without increasing the costs you are more likely to be profitable in the short term and sustainable in the long term. Isn’t this what we are all looking for?

On our ranch we have more than doubled our ability to grow grass on a set land base. This has been largely achieved by management with very minimal additional cost. In some cases we have actually improved our land while decreasing our costs.

It is interesting to note that our land improvement has not plateaued. It will continue for many, many more years. This is one of the reasons that we are optimistic about our future. Our ranch consists of about 4,200 acres. The increase we have been able to achieve is like someone giving us another 4,200 acres of free land. Many other producers across Western Canada have achieved similar results. Would it be beneficial for you to double your grass production without increasing your costs? Stop and think about it. What are the economics of doubling production on a set land base or doubling the land base? The answers won’t even be in the same ballpark. What would a change like this do for your bottom line?

There are only two things required to improve our land as described. The first is proper grazing. That will be for a future article closer to grazing season. The second requirement is to winter our cows on the land. Cows can’t improve your land if they are fed in a corral or feed yard. Cows should be on the land 365 days a year. Remember, they are a tool and you want to keep them working year round.

It doesn’t matter if you bale graze, swath graze, supplement standing forage or use some other method. The important thing is to get the manure and urine deposited on the land as cheaply as possible. The most effective way is to have the cow do it. We can’t afford the cost of hauling the feed to the cow and then hauling the manure back to the land. It is interesting to note that if you do this it costs more and the benefit from the manure is decreased. One reason for this is that the minerals in the urine are twice as concentrated as the minerals in the manure.

There are two big advantages to wintering on the land. The first is lower costs this year because you reduce and/or eliminate bale-and manure-handling costs. This will help increase your profit this year. The second is land improvement. This leads to increased profit in future years by increasing production.

Times are challenging. Are you doing everything possible to reduce costs and increase profits? Remember there is always a better way. Use your greatest resource, you, to come up with the best plan for your ranch. I wish you success.

Happy trails.

Don Campbell ranches with his family at Meadow Lake, Sask. He can be reached at 306-236-6088.

About the author

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Don Campbell

Don Campbell ranches with his family at Meadow Lake, Sask., 
and teaches Holistic Management courses.

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