Want a better grazing season? Build a better planby Troy Bishopp, Madison County SWCD Grazing Specialist

Grazing Holistic Management Educator Ian Mitchell-Innes said, “In the Northeast you have one of the greatest attributes in grazing – snow. This blanket basically gives you a clean slate to start your grazing anew every year.” Will you use this to your advantage?

Best-selling author of “Ultralearning” and entrepreneur Scott H. Young said, “Making plans may not be the most exciting skill, but it’s one of the most important. Ultimately, the future belongs to those who plan for it.”

Young emphasized, “I suspect most people don’t do any planning. Instead, what they call planning is really just procrastinating – musing about an idea instead of concrete action. Planning is an active process that requires research, scheduling and often facing up to the uncomfortable realities of real world achievements. If anything, planning is what’s being procrastinated on, while avoiding the steps to figuring out what the real thing you need to do is, because it’s safer to daydream about it instead.”

In farming, implementing a proactive, profitable grazing strategy also requires a degree of planning before the onset of spring, whether you’re a beginning grazier or a veteran. But the necessary path to create what you want can be a not-so-fun endeavor when you try to determine goals, budgets and stock flow, predict weather patterns, grass growth, paddock shifts and all the ancillary decisions in making a grazing plan.

Ranching for Profit™ calls this “working on the business” (WOB), which shouldn’t be confused with “working in the business” (WIB), which folks generally enjoy more. This planning process may also be hard from inexperience or lack of confidence in budgeting for what will happen in the future. You may need help from a trusted advisor.

A part of this decision-making matrix is formulating this season’s grazing plan. In the grazing genre, many farmers have heard about, seen or have the workings of a “grazing plan” as baseline conservation agency data collection, documenting and/or plan of action tool or funding mechanism (or in some instances, the folder becomes a bed for a barn cat). Many times the plan is created “for” an operation but to be truly effective, it must be created with or by the farmer to maximize the decision-making process. It should be an annual refresher to a more profitable future.

What should a successful grazing plan include? Goals which center on financial, environmental and family/social objectives; an accurate resource inventory of land, animals, fertility, forage production and human capital; quality delineated maps of the farm; a projection of seasonal forage production and stock flow; a list of annual management activities and dates that need to occur; a list of infrastructure changes and specific issues to be addressed during the planning horizon; and a list of meaningful measures and metrics to monitor progress toward goals.

Noble Foundation’s Pasture Consultant Hugh Aljoe said, “It has been said the initial grazing plan itself is of little value as it will change considerably from the first draft, but it is the thought process of creating a strategic grazing plan that is important. Having experienced the process of developing a strategic grazing plan, a grazier is better prepared to make adjustments and realize a proactive approach, not a reactive one.”

The first step to becoming a better planner is simply to set aside more time for it (like March’s mud season). What are fellow graziers planning for in 2021? An impromptu poll showed:

  • Financial – Obeying budgets, extending grazing and using less inputs, increasing stock density, switching enterprises and fine tuning processing dates
  • Environmental – More observation, drought planning, improving carrying capacity balance, switching grazing techniques, building soil health and more diversity on the landscape and infiltrating more water
  • Family goals – Better time management, working on life balance, taking time with children and grandchildren, planning for vacation, family transition in the business and inspiring the next generation

“Since we’re evolved to be seat-of-our-pants doers, not patient planners, we need to counteract that urge by forcing ourselves to map out the path ahead,” said Young. “All of this needs to be put in an actual planning calendar that captures and tracks all of the key milestones.”

There are two main reasons for putting everything in a calendar, said Young. The first is logistic. A lot of people start with a loose plan, but they fail to realize how many obstacles already exist in their schedule. Maybe they have a vacation coming up, or there are other deadlines that might interfere. If your plan never touches your calendar, you’re not forced to confront these conflicts until it’s too late.

The second reason is psychological. Actually putting the time into the calendar makes the plan real in a way that daydreaming doesn’t. Suddenly, a lot of vague and ambitious plans seem a lot more costly. This may seem discouraging, but pessimism in planning is actually good! If you see the difficulties in your plan and still want to go forward, you’re much more likely to stick to it than if the hardships show up belatedly.

This March, undergo a planning reboot and use tools like grazing plans, grazing charts and the practical knowledge of your local, independent Soil & Water Conservation District professional to deliver an improved grazing season. The resources are out there – will you engage some critical thinking? It’s only a phone call away. As George Patton said, “A good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”