“Continuous improvement of the key resources” is one of my five essentials for successful ranch management. While drought, fire and our own mistakes may temporarily set us back at times, continuous improvement of land, livestock and people should always be our goal.
For continuous improvement of grazing land, I like to use the grazing animal as my primary tool; too often, we find ourselves working for the animals instead of letting the animals work for us.
While I have selectively used fire, and mechanical and chemical treatments, I recognize that each has significant costs and some adverse effects associated with them. They also usually are treating symptoms of previous poor grazing practices.
Planned, time-controlled grazing should take into account the basic ecological functions of water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow and biological succession. When done well, grazing along with associated animal impact, can result in a higher percentage of the actual rainfall being used by the plant, rather than being lost as runoff or to evaporation.
It also allows for better cycling of manure and old plant material to become available for future plant growth, and the capture of more sunlight by more and larger plant leaves, which results in more productive photosynthesis. Ultimately, this creates a more bio-diverse plant, animal and insect community, which results in a longer growing season and better function of the ecological processes, as well as increased productivity.
Continuous improvement of livestock should include all livestock and wildlife from which you expect an economic return. However, I will discuss only cattle here.
The greatest one-time, but lasting, improvement to cattle comes from the utilization of heterosis or hybrid vigor. After sunlight and rainfall, it’s the closest thing to a free gift that nature can bestow.
I want cattle that fit my natural environment as closely as possible in order to minimize the use of purchased or raised inputs. Therefore, I want to select bulls from cowherds that are treated no better than mine. I then want to cull cows that aren’t capable of doing well with what my ranch naturally provides.
Along with reducing inputs, a combination of culling unproductive cows and selecting bulls from good cows that haven’t been pampered will move you toward what I call “good cows” in your herd.
Continuous improvement of people begins at the top. It’s impossible to ask your people to improve unless you are a model of self improvement.
I’ve been asked many times about how I empower people. My reply is that I don’t empower anyone. Empowerment is a personal thing. As a manager, I encourage, facilitate and reward empowerment, but each of us must take it upon ourselves to become empowered.
Managers of smaller operations often discount this advice, asking, “Why do I need to be concerned with this? There is only me, my wife and the kids.” In fact, that’s when people skills and other areas of personal development are most needed.
Most of my success is a result of co-workers; sometimes, they make me aware of mistakes or oversights in my thought processes; sometimes, they bring a great new idea. The truth is that none of us are good enough by ourselves. We need to solicit input from family members, neighbors, professional agriculturalists and others with abilities for problem solving and forward thinking.
On ranches I managed, I wanted every full-time employee to have a sizeable herd of his own that ran on the same land every year. This seemed to instill in that person a sense of stewardship for land and cattle that was important to his or her self esteem, development and contribution to our success.
There was always a lot of interaction and idea sharing between our people. It doesn’t take long for a person to know if he or she is merely a robotic extension of the boss, or a person making a valuable contribution with their own talents and continually developing abilities. They also know which they would rather be.
We all progress at different speeds and have different strengths and weaknesses. I would encourage all who manage people, including those on small operations, to find the strengths of each team member and give them responsibility for something for which they are qualified.
I believe the role of the manager is to create an environment in which people want to excel, and then provide the tools, training and freedom to do it. Remember that leadership is best gauged by the voluntary response of those being led.
Burke Teichert has served as a university faculty member, cattle reproduction specialist and manager of seven cattle ranchers for Deseret Land and Cattle. He is known for his practical take on livestock production and ranch management.
Teichert retired last year as vice president and general manager with AgReserves, Inc., where he was involved in seven major ranch acquisitions in the U.S. and the management of a number of farms and ranches in the U.S. as well as Canada and Argentina.
His column on strategic planning for the ranch appears monthly in BEEF magazine.