I made a major mistake this year on the ranch. After warning all of the ranchers in the area about the drought and advising many folks to de-stock to save their grass and keep it healthy, I myself committed the sin of overstocking. I consider myself to be a grass farmer and caring for and improving my pastures is one of my two main goals on the ranch (the other is animal performance). This process (it’s a process to both learn from and recover from a mistake) allowed me to better understand the thinking that prevents us from making timely decisions on the farm. This wasn’t really a case of denial but invisibility. I thought that because of my good grazing practices, my rest periods and my experience that I could never run out of grass. I have never farmed through a multiyear drought and I didn’t not realize the impact that it would have on my forage growth…until now.
On the other side of the coin I am also better prepared to turn what could be considered a disaster into a positive. The grass on my main pastures is gone. I really don’t have enough hay to get me through winter if I start feeding it now, and my stockpiled pastures have only grown a few inches since they were hayed in July! So my cows are not getting the nutrition they require, I have to sell animals at the auction for wholesale prices because I do not have the means to finish them properly, and my grass is going to be set back next year. So what could be right about this situation? The only plus side is that the cattle have eaten back the grass enough that I am going to experiment with some different frost seeding mixes for next year. I’m going to get the cattle off of the main pasture this weekend, start the stockpiled grazing phase of the year about a month early, and sell of about 10 animals to allow me have enough hay in case we have a difficult winter.
I told my mentor about it and how I should have seen this coming in June, he simply said that I could have seen it coming in April and he would be right. But I had never had this many animals with such high nutritional needs. When I started the farm I had 6 cows and a bull and now I have over 30 animals growing and eating all day long. I should have seen it coming but my grazier’s eye is still developing. The best I can do is cut my losses and start getting excited for next year’s successes.