- Animals: bovine
- Animal Production: grazing - continuous, grazing management, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
- Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns
- Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
- Production Systems: holistic management
- Soil Management: soil microbiology, organic matter
As we were looking into the financial aspect of trying to take over my grandfather's farm and ranch, we found that by continuing with his management practices we would show a negative cash flow of approximately $38,000 per year. This included buying equipment, farming the land he farms, running cows on the land he runs cows on, and haying the land he hays. Our financial adviser showed us the sustainability of my grandfather's farm and ranch would not be possible without changing management practices. We knew we would have to do something different. A large part of the cost was hay, supplemental feed and pasture rent. We need to extend the grazing season and lower our dependence on hay, which can be done through mob grazing. A holistic management approach will help us improve many aspects of our own ranch. I have heard it said "What has worked for the last 20 years will not be sustainable for the next 20 years", and I would agree with this statement. If successful we could show other young people, who want to get into ranching, that new and innovative techniques are worth the risk. If mob grazing proves to be a success, other ranchers can adopt the practice to help their ranch become more sustainable.
We proposed to mob graze approximately 300 to 640 acres of native prairie. The custom grazed cattle will help us have the animal impact we need to improve soil health until we are able to build our herd. We have found that other ranchers across the Great Plains have done this with success, but we have not found anyone in North Dakota who has applied this grazing technique to native rangeland. The climate and plant species vary greatly across the Great Plains and the North Central Region. Even though it may have been implemented within the North Central Region, will our species and climate support this system? We have run the idea past individuals in ND who believe it will work, but no one that has implemented the system on native range.
To have a sustainable ranch we need to rejuvenate our native rangeland which has decreased species diversity. The historic climax community in our area is a mix of about 60% cool season grasses and 40% warm season grasses, and our goal is to move the species composition towards the climax community. For a ranch to be sustainable the soil and grass has to be priority #1 and with increased range health, cattle performance and production will follow.
We plan to use soil microbiology samples to gauge soil health. An initial soil sample will be taken before grazing and another in the same location after 1 year. We hope to see improvements in the 2 years this grant covers. We will gather data on grass production, soil biology and photo points at predetermined locations. Beef health and weight gain is the most important aspect among neighboring ranchers; therefore, we will weigh the cattle spring and fall throughout the trial.
The results will shape our own practice and contribute to the practices of other ranches. Most ranchers are only interested if a practice will improve their bottom line, with little consideration to the sustainability. We believe an ecologically based ranch is a sustainable ranch. We hope the results of mob grazing will be environmentally beneficial and a system that continues to promote equal or increased beef production per acre. There are few ranchers willing to step out and take a chance on an unfamiliar grazing system, which might not work. However, we are left with few options, because the risk of an inefficient business forces us to think and try things outside the box. We feel the challenge of implementing a mob grazing system is a better choice than continuing the operation of a ranch that is not sustainable.