Hi, if you look around the ranch you will see most of it empty, thousands of acres with only antelope and cute little bunnies hopping around.
All of this land is required here to sustain our herd of cattle, and although it may look like tons of wasted space, but in reality, there is a carefully researched and orchestrated plan, one that is constantly changing and being improved.
Today we look at stocking rates and figuring out we manage grazing on Our Wyoming Life.
Welcome back, and thanks for joining us as we continue to explore the ranch life and escape the ordinary.
We are going to help around 150 cows have their little baby calves and even if the temperature outside doesn’t get warmer, its going to be heating up around here very soon.
Much of my job here on the ranch does center around manual labor, feeding cows, fixing fence, tractors, farmers markets, whatever you name it.
It comes down to putting the work in to get something done and it can be hard work, but today we are continuing in a series of videos from the past where we take a look at the business side of things, so we aren’t in the field.
Most ranches have some sort of office somewhere, even my father in law Gilbert had an office, although most of the information that he used to run the ranch was kept in two spots.
His little notebook, which he carried with him everywhere and his checkbook, which he never left home without.
Gilbert had a theory that there was no problem that money couldn’t solve, he was partly right I guess, if you have money.
But now days, like most ranches, you have to play it smart and you have to find a balance.
Ever since we put out the cost of ranching video over a year ago, I have seen the joke, how do you make a million dollars in ranching?
You start with two million.
Its funny, and for some it may be true, but if you want to make a solid go at it, no matter what size you operation is, there are a few things you have to know and the big one is called stocking rate.
Terms like stocking rate, carrying compacity and AUM are often used in ranching or raising livestock, but there tends to be some confusion about what they actually mean.
I explained that at that time we had a stocking rate of 30 acres per cow and I still get a lot of grief over that fact.
Not because its not true, but because who ever is watching is in an area where you can have a lot less acreage to support a cow and her calf.
So I thought I would take you through our process to determine our stocking rate, something
we refigure almost every year and for good reason, its not only the livelihood of the ranch, but it could be the future.
We have a worksheet that we use to figure all this out and at the end of this video,
I am going to share with you how you can get your hands on that worksheet for your own use as well, so stick around.
We start with definitions.
AUM or Animal Unit Month, that is the amount of feed require to sustain a 1000lb cow and her calf for one month, its about 800lbs of dry forage.
The cool thing about this number is its translatable to pretty much any animal.
For example, a 200 lb sheep would be .2 AUM and 2000 lb bull would be 2 AUM.
For us our cows average about 1200 lbs, so a cow out here is equal to 1.2 AUM.
Carrying capacity is the maximum number of animals a site can support over a given period of time without causing an adverse effect on future forage production, mostly by over grazing.
And then there is stocking rate the number of animals per unit area over a given period, or how long they are on pasture.
It can be, until we start to plug in some numbers.
The first thing you need to know, or I need to know is how much forage, or feed for the cows, our ranch is going to produce.
Its going to change year to year, you can look at an average, but if you are in the ranching or farming business, I think you are going to agree with me on this, the average is not the norm.
Its either above average or below, so if we look at the average production of an acre out here, I would err on the side of caution and say its only about 1000 lbs per acre.
We have had better years, and we have definitely had worse but in planning for the upcoming summer we have to start somewhere.
So we take our 5000 acres and take 1000lbs per acre, or 5 million lbs of feed.
Now cows could eat all of this, but we don’t want them to, that would cause issues down the road, so the general rule is eat half leave half, that takes us to 2.5 million.
Out of that, we can say that the cows will only utilize half of that, the other half they will urinate and defecate on trample, and be down in. now we are down to 1.25 million lbs.
Of course cows aren’t the only thing out there, we have antelope, insects and the like,
and they have been shown to eat as much as 15% of that available forage.
Taking us down to just a little over 1 million pounds of available forage in the form of grass for the cows to eat.
I hope that makes sense, its going to differ where ever you live.
We have a very short growing season here.
Our rainy season is from April to June.
After that, we don’t get much more rain.
We hay in July because that’s the end of the growing season and we don’t get another cutting, the grass wont grow back without water and much is the same for the grass the cows eat.
Once they chomp it off, its done until next year.
That’s why its important to control grazing and move cows from pasture to pasture once they have taken grass to that 50 percent mark.
Take half, leave half.
There are areas where this is impossible to control, ditches along roads seem to be grazed heavily, as does grass near water locations, cows are just going to naturally graze harder in those areas.
So we know that we have a million pounds of available forage on the ranch for cows to eat.
We also know we have 5000 acres to play with, so that is 200 lbs per acre, that’s not much.
Now we go back to AUM, that animal unit month.
1 animal unit month is worth 800lbs of dry forage, its 26 lbs per day.
20lbs for the cow and 6 for her calf.
We’ve already said that our cows weigh 1200 lbs and are worth 1.2 animal units so by the math we need 960 lbs per month per cow.
Lets use those number to get a stocking rate.
We have 960lbs of food needed per month per cow, we also know that we are producing 200lbs of useable feed per acre.
So that one cow is going to eat 4.8 acres worth of our forage per month.
We plan on feeding hay that we have put up elsewhere on the ranch, or bought from other hay producers for 6 months out of the year, so over the other 6 months, she is going to eat 28.8 acres worth of hay production.
That I would round up to 30.
30 acres per cow stocking rate.
For us, here on our ranch.
Its going to change for you, no matter where you are at.
You might get rain year round, you might be able to get 4 cuttings of hay and your pastures in turn produce 3 or 4 tons of forage per year.
That’s awesome, but everything is relative.
Here you can buy an acre of agricultural land in the right quantity for 400 to 500 dollars, elsewhere, where production might be higher you are going to see that land price go up, based on what that land can produce.
Its all relative.
The nice thing, is that once you know your stocking rate, you can figure all kinds of things out.
Lets say you have a 400 acre field, how long should you leave your herd in there.
Well we already know that a cow is going to eat 4.8 acres of forage per month, but we can break it down to a day or .16 acres.
You have 150 cows in there, they are consuming 24 acres per day and that pasture should be good for about 16 days.
This is the carrying compacity we talked about earlier.
So you have 16 days before you should think about moving them off and on to greener pastures.
None of it is rocket science, but it is different where ever you go, even a mile away, another rancher might have a completely different stocking rate than we do.
We use ours to protect our land, to ensure that the next year we have something to continue on.
Is there room for improvement?
Of course there is and we are working on ways to improve production of forage on our land.
But we have to be tricky and smart, we have to conserve where we can, and move forward where possible without risking to much.
The nice thing about this formula is that its easily adjustable for different livestock, its based on a 1000 lb animal.
A 300 lb llama would be .3 Animal Units, a 5 lb chicken, .005
Make the numbers work for you, and know exactly what you have available for your livestock.
The smarter we are, the better stewards of the land we become and really that’s what its all about, ensuring that the next has the opportunity to experience what we do everyday and have a connection that is like none other.
These calculations are performed constantly on the ranch, they help us plan how to keep back heifer, how to cull cows and even are factored into hunting, if the antelope population grows too high, we increase the number of hunters we invite to the ranch, an antelope is equivalent to about .1 Animal unit and it only takes ten of them to eat as much as a cow needs.
Thanks for taking your time today to hang out with me today.
We have lots more on the way for you as we continue on our journey, exploring the ranch life and we invite you to subscribe and escape your ordinary.
If you are interested in a worksheet that we use to figure our stocking rate and our carrying capacity, I urge you to head to our website and sign up for the herd report, our weekly newsletter.
As a link for that worksheet will be included in the upcoming issues.
A new episode of the project list is due out Tuesday, I hope to see you there, and until then, have a great week and thanks for joining us in our Wyoming life.