Go for the Good of the Whole – Part 2

Written by Shaelyn Meyer – Consultant, Crossroads Ranch Consulting, Montana USA.

Read part 1 here.

Below, I will compare the various ways the operation has changed in the past 20 years. These are changes that have worked for us, but holistic management is not about applying a cookie cutter management plan made up by someone else. Part of the values held by everyone involved with the ranch is that we leave the land better than we found it. You can’t manage what you don’t measure; so through monitoring and soil testing we can show, both quantitatively and visually, that we have done that. The things that work on the Meyer Ranch may not work for every operation. I guarantee you that in five years, the management of the ranch will look different than it does today. It’s important to be adaptable, constantly evolving, and always pursuing more information.

15 Years ago                                                                            Today

5,000-acres owned 9,500 acres owned
1250 lb cows 1150 lb cows
200 cows – calves sold in the fall 500 cows + 500 yearlings – sold in late summer (@ 700lbs)
.05 AU’s/acre ranch stocking rate (AU = Animal Unit) .1 AU’s/acre ranch stocking rate
Late Feb/early March calving Late April/ early May calving
500 lb. calves at 7 months 450 lb. calves at 7 months
October weaning February weaning
2 tons of hay/cow for six months of the year + cake supplementation 500-1000 lbs. hay/cow for four months of the year or less – no other supplementation

(Occasionally the stocking rate is higher – during high moisture years, additional cattle are brought in and grazed on contract)

The profitability of any business is determined by how efficiently available resources can be utilized and converted into a marketable product. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, the goal is the same; efficiency. How to appropriately measure efficiency is where education/perspective is needed. Some people measure success by their weaning weights and they measure a good cow herd by their breed-up percentage. To me, that’s like deciding to invest in a company that makes the coolest looking stuff without any research whatsoever into the business model. A holistic approach to management will help you dissect your business structure and maximize efficiency.

In any area of life, you have to do something no one else does to get something no one else has. This holds true in ranching as well. After evaluating our cattle, Gearld Frye with Bovine Engineering and Consulting began spreading the word: “The Meyer Ranch has the best commercial cowherd I’ve ever seen! And I evaluate cattle all over the country!”  But we wouldn’t be where we are now if when that cull pen started filling up, we had altered the course. That didn’t align with the ranches holistic goal! The Meyer Ranch is a true testament to the blessing that can come from first defining, then holding true to your values.

My dad says all the time “if only I’d known then what I know now . . . If only I’d had someone to show me what to do”. But there are people out there who are implementing Holistic Management practices and improving their business and their lives. They’ve made the mistakes you don’t have to make and, most likely, they will be more than happy to mentor you. Find those people, talk to them, ask questions, attend seminars, and invest in your education! It will pay you back in dividends.

View from the sky – 500 cow/calf pairs intensive grazing. These cows get moved every morning and night and paddock size is adjusted for forage quality. This land won’t be grazed again for at least 12 months (Photo Credit- Shaelyn Meyer).

Native Range – The property fence line going into the winter grazing season. The neighbours land is on the right. Photo Credit: Chester Meyer

High production year! Cattle brought in for contract grazing. Photo Credit- Alyson Hycks-Lynch.

After the Mob has moved on. A very nice layer of biomass covers the soil. This will help keep it cool and hold moisture. Photo Credit- Alyson Hicks-Lynch.