Theory and Practice
Ranch management has evolved from the simple job of raising cattle into a very high-tech, specialized business. Ranchers are, by nature, excellent operational managers. This is evident from recent statistics. Beef production has increased by 70% in a few short decades (Dunn & McCuistion, 2008). Being a successful ranch manager today requires the ranch manager do more than just produce cattle.
Producing beef cattle efficiently is fundamental to meeting the demand for red meat of an ever increasing global population. The efficiency of a beef cattle herd depends on the competence of a good manager. Nutrition, plays a big part in the conception and pregnancy as well as the ability of the cow to produce healthy off spring. Beef cattle serve a unique role in converting low quality forage into high quality protein for human consumption but this often takes work pushing the cattle from one feed ground to another (Diskin & Kenny, 2016). Recognizing quality in a beef cow also plays a role in the efficiency of the herd. Deciding whether to cover the cows with live bulls or do artificial insemination (AI) can be an important consideration for the manager. Disease and pest control are beneficial to increased production.
Marketing strategies are fundamental to selling beef cattle produced as a commodity. Selling when prices and demand for beef is up can be tricky. Prices jump up and down on a daily basis. People playing the futures market drive beef prices up and down. Ranch managers need to find a buyer or method of selling they trust.
Ranchers find themselves wearing many hats. They need to be agronomists, water engineers, politicians, lawyers, estate planners, cattle producers, employers, accountants, veterinarians, mechanics, horse trainers, public speakers, wildlife experts, rangeland managers, and human resource managers, (Teliz-Triujeque et al, 2009).
Gathering cows for spring processing
Managing ranches not only means managing livestock, land, wildlife, rangeland, and natural resources, but most ranchers need to manage human resources as well. Employees are an important part of a ranches success. Due to the shrinking number of people in the cattle industry and people willing to do ranch work, ranchers find it important to understand how to manage employees (Rhoads, Livsey, McCuistion, & Mathis, 2013). A good horse or dog can take the place of a human worker. Taking care of horses and stock dogs is just as important as maintaining ranch equipment.
As with any business, keeping and maintaining records of operation and accounting is a must. Keeping records of the cattle such as breeding, calving, culling, weaning, vaccination, processing, birth weight, sale and acquisition can be done on spread sheets, notebook, or computer generated programs. Records should also be kept on equipment, machinery, feed, hay, repairs, fencing and employees. Keeping good records of calving and weaning weight can help with the culling of non-productive cattle. Keeping tack of finances is the most important record of all. Financial records determine how successful your operation is and whether you are actually making or losing money.
Turining cattle out on public lands
Many ranchers must lease public lands for cattle to graze on in the summer months while they produce hay on their private land to feed the cattle in the winter. Dealing with the US Forest Service or BLM in a sensible and non-emotional way ensures future rangeland for their cattle. Managing the cattle and grazing on these lands helps keeps rangeland sustainable and government agencies satisfied. These privileges can be revoked at any time due to non-compliance with permit, drought, range fires, and environmental emergencies.
Rancher managers must continue to monitor the condition of their soil, vegetation, wildlife, water, livestock production and economics on both private and public rangelands. The rangelands managed by ranchers, provides spiritual values, amenity, and commodity to the ranchers, the communities in which they live, and the nation as a whole (Maczko et al, 2012). In closely monitoring these lands, ranchers have provided forage for grazing animals, wildlife habitat, water storage and filtration, carbon sequestration, and recreation opportunities.
Today ranching is a highly complex and sometimes controversial business. Ranchers are constantly defending negative publicity. Ranchers must reach beyond everyday boundaries to dispel myths that ranchers and their cattle are destroying the world. Environmentalists feel beef cattle, grazing on public lands, have a significant impact on the environment. Conservationists feel cattle play a role in changing vegetation, soil erosion, exotic plant invasions and other ecological impacts. On the contrary, ranchers feel they are doing good for the environment. When done correctly, ranchers take care of nature and nature takes care of them. Rangelands flourish when overgrowth is grazed down, but not to the point of overgrazing. Most ranchers work hard to be good stewards of the land (Ellis, 2013). Many successful cattle ranches enhance conservation by preventing development, subdivision, and by protecting biodiversity (Maczko et al, 2012).
meadows, weaning lot, and hay shed
Many times ranches are handed down through families for generations. Ranch management practices and beliefs are passed down as well. Much can go awry when the transition is left to chance (Klinefelter & McCann, 2009). In order for the ranch to remain successful, the new ranch manager needs to envision the future of the ranch. The manager needs to develop strategies to help the ranch move forward, even if it means leaving old beliefs and practices behind. A relatively simple, yet important tool in the development of a strategy is called a GAP analysis. Doing a GAP analysis involves recognizing gaps and creating strategies to help close the gap, moving the ranch toward the vision (Dunn & McCuistion, 2008). The best way for the successors to understand how the ranch works, is for them to be involved in the estate planning process. Most successful transitions are due to early and deliberate planning (Klinefelter & McCann, 2009).
Whether buying a ranch or inheriting a ranch planning is the key to success. As Dwight Eisenhower once said, “In times of crisis, plans are often useless, but planning is absolutely essential”.