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Book Excerpt: Ranching Full-Time on 3 Hours a Day

The book Ranching Full-Time on 3 Hours a Day, by Cody Holmes, provides real-world examples of the success that holistic management systems can create a for your ranch.

Using his personal experience, author Cody Holmes describes the practices that he has found both successful and profitable for ranching cattle, while working only three hours a day.

Many hard-working men and women have wanted to make a living ranching in the cattle industry, but have struggled with very little success. Holmes has found that to be truly successful, the critical factors are your decision-making and planning abilities.

In this book you will learn about:

  • Using diversity to find stability and security
  • Taking a whole-ranch approach to management
  • Letting cattle improve your soil
  • Maintaining a better quality of life while cattle ranching
  • And more!

The excerpt below discusses step-by-step processes for holistic management in agriculture.


Copyright 2011, softcover, 187 pages.

From Chapter 12: Holistic Systems for Stockmen

I began reading Allan Savory’s book Holistic Management quite a few years ago. Ever since then I find myself skimming that work several times each year. Other authors’ words began to make more sense once I opened my mind to the thought that holism may have some credence. I have found that some farmers that appear to be most successful have been practicing in some­thing of a holistic manner even though they may never have heard the word used before.

Holistic is a very simple term to me. It comes from the base root of the word whole. It is in this con­text that I attempt to describe the real meaning of the holistic system of farming that I believe in so adamantly.

Holistic systems for stockmen can be read about and taught through observation and practice. We learn that no single aspect of the ranch can be managed in isolation — as suggested by mainstream agriculture. The practice of raising bigger weaned calves year after year doesn’t take into consideration that these bigger and bigger weaned heifers eventually make bigger and bigger cows. These big cows eventually become unproductive and consume more in feed and maintenance than the value of the calf they produce. This single-trait selection — or the lack of taking all things involved on the ranch into consideration when making changes — is the opposite of holistic farming systems.

Rancher's cow in field

Holistic systems for stockmen can be read about and taught through observation and practice

In the early years of my ranching experience I began to watch one particular farm neighbor. He raised his family on a small cow/calf ranch with what income the ranch could provide. They appeared to have an average lifestyle from an economic stand­point, that is they lived like most the other families around except he did not have to go to work each day to support the ranch.

The ranch supported the family. Bob had no farm machinery and spent no time during the busy hay time in May like everyone else working 16-hour days baling up hay to feed in winter. What little hay he fed in the winter was custom baled. I farmed next to Bob for only about seven years, and it was only the last few years that I began to see that he did not do what everyone else was doing. I moved on to a larger farm and began leasing larger and larger farms.

I began doing the things that I saw Bob doing on his farm in my operation. Learning came very slow to me and I have no problem admitting my reluctance to education. But I was certain that machinery was a great evil and had no place in a livestock operation. I began grazing further and further into the winter without feeding hay. I also found that if I could allow the grass to grow kind of wild it would produce more forage in the long haul. This was hard for most people to accept. With the belief that our farms should resemble golf courses, this became a prob­lem for most of my landlords.

Author Cody Holmes standing in high grass as part of his holistic management system

Dense, waist-high, multi-species forage is what Holmes is looking for with his holistic management system.

I remember one particular landlord who was in his 90s and was very set in his ways. I was leasing about 1,600 acres from him at the time for my cow herd. He had sold all of his equipment except his 15-foot brush hog and 150-horsepower tractor. About the time I would get a few paddocks of grass knee high, he would chop it down to lawn height. I could not convince him of my need for that tall forage this winter.

His holistic goal of his ranch was not the same as mine. My goal for that ranch was for it to produce as much forage as possible. He wanted it to look freshly mowed most of the time. He had made a lot of money from buy­ing and selling farms and little to none from livestock produc­tion. He was good at what he was doing, but it was not really ranching. He also did a good job of keeping the tractor suppliers, feedstores, vets, and other input salesmen in business.

All of these challenges helped educate me in the holistic sys­tem of farming. Through my experiences, continued reading, and talking to good farm managers I began to formulate this system that once and for all could make livestock ranching prof­itable.

By using the holistic systems approach, and not simply looking at production as an isolated event, my ranch began to turn around.

After looking more closely through the holistic point of view, I realized I could not make this work the way I wanted it to on rented farms. In order for me to function holisti­cally I would have to have complete control over all aspects of the ranch. This can only be done through ownership of the land. Holistic land planning is a multi-year program and short-term leases lead only to frustration and disappointment. This does not mean that farm leasing is not practical and necessary for the cash-limited farmer in the early stages of growth. But the long-term plan must include land ownership for success. With holis­tic systems in place, profits from a productive livestock opera­tion can pay for the principle and interest costs of purchasing that ranch.

I designed the Ten Steps to Holistic Systems with ranch profit in mind. It encompasses over 35 years of personal, practi­cal experience meshed with the insights and contributions from many different authors and farmers I have come across in as many years. As I list these steps try and visualize how you can incorporate these steps into your holistic plan on your farm or ranch.

 

Step 1

Determine who the decision makers are in the organization and utilize all their efforts to compile the group’s holistic goals. This is a written document of one to three paragraphs stating the purpose and desires of the decision makers. This short letter format should be posted where it can be observed daily, such as on the door of the refrigerator with the valuable pictures of the decision maker’s family. I believe Allan Savory best describes this by categorizing these goals into three distinct areas:

  • quality of life,
  • forms of production, and
  • future resource base.

You can break down your holistic goals into these three areas of how you see the future arriving. Remember to keep the lists short and precise. And only the decision makers make contributions in this area.

Under the heading of Quality of Life write out in just one or two sentences what you would like to get from the organization. That is, list how you see the farm contributing to your quality of life. This is not a list of weaning weights or cow numbers, but a list closely related to personal benefits.

Under the heading Forms of Production write out in what form you see the organization or farm producing revenue, if revenue is part of the quality of life you seek. Again do not limit yourself to a certain breed of cow or chicken, but more gener­ally species or types.

Under the heading Future Resource Base write out how you see your organization or farm taking shape in the future. More specifically, describe where you would like to see it go or look like and what the resources or farmland may look like once you get closer to where you want to be.

One of the main reasons I use this list of holistic goals is to verify that for each movement I make each day that that move­ment, decision or project is moving in the direction stated in these goals. If I have this list posted on the wall or the refrigera­tor I can easily question my task at hand to determine if what I am going to do today specifically gets me closer to where I want to be. The listed holistic goals are like a beacon in the night.

Step 2

Develop a methodology to help make informed decisions in the operation by starting with time management.

 

Want more? Buy this book here.

Author Cody HolmesCODY HOLMES left home at age 17 with his high school 4-H project of seven cows. That project grew into the Rockin H Ranch, a diversified ranch, on-farm market and agri-tourism business. The ranch has supported as many as 900 head on 3,400 acres. Cody and his wife, Dawnnell, open up their ranch to the public and also run Real Farm Foods Farm Market, an on-farm store offering retail sales of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, eggs, milk and seasonal produce.

Cody, by tapping the knowledge of wise mentors, has connected the dots between soil and human life – bridging the gap to sustainable stockmanship on his farm. Cody speaks and writes frequently about his passions – cattle, soil fertility and his holistic, grass-based ranching system.

 

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