Raising cattle with minimum work and maximum profit

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“Putting up a bunch of fence and going around and rotating cattle in a circle without understanding the concepts is rotationally abusing your land.”

STEVE KENYON

CONSULTANT, GREENER PASTURES LIMITED

Steve Kenyon doesn’t believe in doing the ordinary. He’s been ranching for 15 years and currently runs 1,200 head on 3,500 acres of leased land, but does not own any animals or any equipment. He runs a custom-grazing operation year-round and is a consultant with his own company, Greener Pastures Limited.

By using extended grazing techniques, he is able to pasture year-round and has taught sustainable grazing seminars all over the world for the past seven years.

Kenyon told a session at the Northlands Farm and Ranch show that his production practices are dictated first by his human resources and quality-of-life considerations, then by economics. He changes production practices depending on the economic situation.

Kenyon breaks his farm into several profit centres, and figures out the profitability of each. He said the easiest way for farmers to make more money is to stop doing things.

“Often some areas are losing money and people don’t even know it. If you stop doing these things, the other areas will grow and you’ll make more profit,” he said.

Kenyon said the key number in ranching is margin – the difference between the cost of production and the gross revenue.

“Understanding gross margin analysis was a breakthrough for my business,” he said.

“If the gross revenue goes up, but so does the cost, then you’re no farther ahead. If you lower the cost of production, and your revenue comes down, then you’re no farther ahead. You got to keep looking at the margin. That’s the most important number.”

Intensive cell grazing

Kenyon refers to his pasturing system as “intensive cell grazing.”

“Putting up a bunch of fence and going around and rotating cattle in a circle without understanding the concepts is rotationally abusing your land,” he said.

When grazing is done in drier environments, managers will need to have more rest periods, he said.

“At the end of the season, I’ve got a different grazing period and a different resting period than I do at the beginning of the season,” he said. “It changes throughout the year. Rotating your cattle every Saturday is not going to work.”

Grazing period is the time animals are on a specific area of pasture, and the rest period is the time in between.

Kenyon said the rest period allows healthy root reserves, which are fundamental to good grazing management.

“Pastures don’t get overgrazed,” said Kenyon. “Individual plants get overgrazed.”

He believes in a high stock density, which allows for better utilization of the land as the animals will graze everything down, and will have better manure distribution. The animals stimulate the soil with their hooves, which can help new seedlings develop and break down soil.

Kenyon says weeds are “pioneer species” which grow on the land to heal it. He believes in competing against the weeds by getting his grasses to grow nice and long, and controlling his weeds through grazing-management strategies. If the grasses are strong, they will out-compete the weeds.

“There isn’t a weed that I can’t outgraze in three years,” he said.

Though Kenyon promotes intensive grazing, he says some residue should be left for moisture retention and erosion control.

“If you see dirt when you look down on a pasture, then you’ve got work to do,” he said.

Kenyon doesn’t buy commercial fertilizers, but composts his manure and uses that as fertilizer. He calls the microorganisms that live in manure “his hired hands,” which fix nitrogen, decompose manure and litter, control parasites, buffer the soil and release nutrients for the plants.

Grazing in winter

Kenyon grazes year-round by using a combination of residue grazing, dormant-season grazing, swath grazing and bale grazing. He changes every year depending on what works best financially and says the needs of every operation will be different.

Dormant-season grazing involves using the residue from summer grazing to extend the season as long as possible. Kenyon says there are several ways to do this, but it does take some management. He has used barley and peas in for swath grazing.

Bunch grazing involves leaving combine residues in piles across the field.

Kenyon says bale grazing is one of his’s favourite winter-management practices. He puts bales out in the fall when it’s easy, then moves the fences around the bales in the winter. He advises storing bales in the area where the animals will be fed, as this saves a lot of labour.

“I can feed 350 cows in winter with 15 minutes of work every four days,” he said, adding that he feeds his cows while wearing snowshoes.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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