LATHAM, NY – To the casual observer, The Century House on Route 9 in the heart of the Capital District resembled a Hollywood movie set, complete with cowboys, rock-star chefs, writers, directors and a packed house of spectators. Here in farm country, we are used to this spectacle as the handiwork of nationally acclaimed leaders of the 8th Annual Winter Green-Up Grass-Fed Conference, Morgan Hartman and Tom Gallagher.
This year’s theme corralled the topics of farm profitability, land stewardship, soil carbon, grazing management, meat quality and consistency, cattle genetics of place, the animal welfare narrative and “A rancher’s vow”.
Headlining this year’s venue was author, Colorado rancher and contrarian, Chip Hines who believes nature’s design works very well. “To become truly sustainable, cattle operations have to remain as close as possible to the natural model. Progress means not buying inputs,” said Hines.
Hines was born and raised on a farm and ranch southwest of Burlington, CO. After high school he moved to the Kit Carson, Colorado area and worked on several ranches. In 1968 Chip and his wife Judy began leasing land and buying cows. Cattle and grass became a life-long endeavor. Chip is now retired but not out of the game entirely, having written three books on ranch management and mentoring other ranchers.
He described his lifetime of experience in the cattle industry and how far out of whack we have strayed, in his independent rancher fashion. “My slantwise logic confirms the cattle industry has suffered from misdirection. Almost everything professed in the last 30 to 40 years has led us to a high input, unsustainable high performance system of management that treated cattle like inanimate objects that could be manipulated like concrete, steel and computer chips. It seems there is a perfect everything mentality. All we had to do was breed the biggest and fastest gaining bull to our biggest and fastest gaining heifers and feed a perfect ration and success was assured. Production was king, not profitability.”
Several years ago in a conversation with a Kansas banker, Chip quipped on his thoughts of over-usage of machinery and the high level of inputs in the industry. The lender disagreed, saying, “Machinery dealers and others are a part of the community and we are all in this together.” This prompted Hines to produce a satirical piece call The Ranchers Vow: “From this day forward, I pledge to support my tractor, pickup, hay machinery, feed and pharmaceutical dealers through good times and bad, through drought, blizzard, flood, low prices and high interest, till bankruptcy do us part.
He is constantly seeking answers to problems. “I realized I was not alone in my thinking of getting back to the basics of grazing management, cattle genetics adapted to local conditions, calving in sync with nature and looking to management, first, as a no-cost solution. If one cow can thrive under our management and environment, then they all should is my mantra,” said Hines.
He described the importance of how a management discussion group he joined changed his outlook. “We want to know the crazy, out-of-the box people that are striving for low input ranching strategies using management instead of money to solve problems. What could be more cost effective?”
Practices and systems he believes in include: Fence-line weaning, grazing management that increases soil life, calving cows when your deer are dropping fawns, breeding smaller more efficient cows, good marketing, mentoring opportunities, stockpiled grazing to reduce hay feeding and holistic decision-making to name a few.
“For the past 25 years Chip has been a great mentor to me. He also emphasized the need to understand and imitate nature. This will be a sustainable, profitable roadmap for the future,” said Kit Pharo, past speaker at the Winter Green-up Conference.
To get a copy of Chip’s logic you can order a video of the 2016 Winter Green-up from Albany County CCE by calling 518-765-3518 or visit his website to order his books at www.chiphines.com .