A Recipe for Unsustainability


fence line

This picture is real but the scenario is fictional, although I’m sure many of you know someone who manages their property like the example below.  It is not my intent to disparage anyone…I just want everyone to understand that caring for any livestock requires daily attention to the animals, the feed sources, and the weather.  If you don’t have the skills or desire to devote your attention to these critical aspects of your operation, call me and I can help you!

I had never really seen a skinny beef cow.  I came into ranching slowly and although my mistakes have been many, I came into the beef business with a focus on pasture health and management.  The reason for this was not because I was more knowledgeable but because my mentors hammered this into me.  From estimating forage to restocking in droughts, I concentrated on taking care of the grass because I was taught that this was the key to the success of a forage based business.

Earlier this week I visited a nearby ranch to check up on their cattle and what I found was the opposite of management.   The above picture is their overgrazed field next to an area managed by a different grazer.   This owner decided to dig a pond, put up a fence and bring in the cattle in order to gain a tax exception from the state.  I am all for this law as it gives beginning farmers and ranchers an opportunity to run a business in an area where they could not afford to buy the property.  This system also keeps rural land that would most likely be sold for development in farming.

Poor management affects all industries and business and ranching is no different.  To be truly sustainable it is vital that producers do their best to care for their land and to encourage all types of growth.  The notion that you can just put animals out on pasture and they will get fat has never worked and every successful rancher over the last thousand years understands this principal.  Producing domestic animals for consumption requires daily management, work, and the ability to adjust to the whims of the weather.

Inspired by the absentee management style exhibited by this producer I have concocted a recipe for unsustainability.  I would encourage you to follow this recipe if you would wish to lose money producing ruminants, diminish the value and productivity of your forage-based pastures, and work yourself to the bone sitting on top of diesel-guzzling green machines.

Recipe for Unsustainability


Build a fence

Dig a pond

Remove brush and mow field down to stubble in the fall and then again in spring during the first flush


Do not conduct forage analysis to determine approximate carrying capacity

Do not match class of livestock to the forage quality and quantity

Introduce animals to Pastures:

Allow animal’s continuous access to entire pasture so they quickly eat all the most nutritious forage

Allow animal’s unlimited access to ponds so the sides begin to denude and water quality suffers

Begin feeding low-quality hay in early July as the summer slump sets in

Only check on animals when you happen to be in the area


Pick up animals when you are tired of paying for hay

Send your skinny beef animals to the auction

Don’t balance books to reflect monies lost

Blame everyone except yourself for the difficult season and low income

Everyone who reads this will probably find some comparison to their own operation and management style.  My hope is, that like me, you have recognized some of the deficiencies in your recipe for sustainability and corrected them. Cornell Cooperative is here to help you be the most efficient, happiest, and profitable operation you can be, so if you feel that you could use some guidance I am in my office 24 hours a day to help (just kidding)



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