The Case Of Rancher Brian – By Allan Savory

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Years ago a rancher I’ll call Brian got training from me in grazing planning. The lesson he learned about the planning would be of value to any rancher.

After a couple of years of planning, Brian found that two routine planning sessions averaging a couple of hourse each, was tedious. He knew his ranch well, and like thousands of other ranchers who had the same training he reverted to simply rotating the cattle on his 30,000-acre ranch. All went well for a while. Then one day in the dry (dormant) season he called me in panic as a fire had swept through much of the ranch. Suddenly he had water in dams where there was only blackened ground, and grass in other places that had little or no water. And of course he now had to destock to avaid catastrophe.

He had decided to destock by about 50% because at least half the ranch was burnt out completely. This of course carried plenty of consequence financially and in terms of the breeding herd he was building up. Brian only phoned me because his wife suggested he get my opinien on this level of destocking. I flew immediately to the nearest airfield where Brian met me.

As we got into Brian’s pickup he said he was taking me to see the burnt out land and his cattle. I asked if we could rather go and look at his grazing plan as I could not learn anything from burn grass and looking at cattle that he dod not already know. Brian admitted he hadn’t done his planning. And he went on to say there was no reason to do it now because he didn’t know how many animals he would have left, after destocking, to carry through untill the rains.

We argued about that until he gave way as I started to move back to my plane to leave. We drove instead to the ranch house where his wife Joan was surprised to see us. She was not expecting us till later, given all the land and cattle we had to look at.

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With some difficulty we found Brian’s aide memoire (in the kids’ toy chest, reeking of tomcat) but not his grazing charts, which he had lost. I sat Brian down with a new chart and asked him to proceed by just following the steps as laid out. Brian balked at the step which asked him to write down the paddocks and their areas. He said there was no point with some as they were burnt out. I said “Did it ask you that?” Answer, No. “So then please just do what the step says.”

When Brian reached the step asking him how many cattle he had, he really balked, after all he had not yet decided how many he was going to keep! Again I simply said “What did that step ask you? It asked how many animals you have. It did not aske you how many you intend to keep. Do it!” And so we proceeded with protest and insistence, much to Joan’s amusement, I noted.

Step by reluctant foot-dragging-step Brian filled in his grazing chart – paddocks with no grass were marked totally unavailable till a month after he coulde expect growth, for safety. Paddocks with no water were marked as such till well into the following rains and reasonable growth, again for safety. After a while Brian reached the step where he could actually plot the moves of the cattle and found how easy it was to bypass problem paddocks and hold (as the planning had brought out when calculating grazing periods) longer in better paddocks. This enthusiasm increased and resistance was over as he completed the planned moves till well into the next growing season.

At this point I asked Brian to look at the plan and tell me if any paddock specifically concerned him because it might not have enough forage for the herd as planned. He picked out a cople of the most worrying paddocks. We then simply calculated the ADA(H) those paddocks needed to supply in those grazings With this ADA(H) figure converted to square yards needed to feed one animal today we went out and sampled those paddocks. He decided they were fine.

In all, we spent about an hour and a half creating the plan. Brian did not destock at all and saved his breeding herd and a lot of money. What matters most is that I did not give him one scrap of advice. Every bit of knowledge required wasin Brian’s head. The holistic planned grazing merely brought the knowledge from Brian’s head onto paper where he could see many dimensions in one plane – time, numbers, and volume of forage – something the human mind cannot do without such a crutch.

The couple of hundred thousand dollars Brian saved with an hour and a half of planning was a good marginal reaction, higher than most investments. So rememebr Brian and do your planning. Don’t revert to merely rotating your animals if you are serious about profit, your family and your ranch.

A note from Don Campbell: “Finances are the same. The greater the challenge, the more important it is to plan!”

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