Earlier this month, Anneliese Walker from our Customer Success team attended a popular Cornerstone Grazing workshop in Nebraska, USA on Management-intensive Grazing. Here, she shares her experience learning from Jim Gerrish and how she plans to adopt these strategies to help our customers achieve grazing success. In addition to putting smiles on the faces of our customers, Anneliese runs a regeneration-focused, direct-to-consumer business, Walker Farms, alongside her partner, George.
Context, Flexibility and Time – A recipe for change
By Anneliese Walker
I recently had the distinct privilege of attending a Management-intensive Grazing Workshop featuring Jim Gerrish of American GrazingLands Services, LLC. The event was hosted by Derek Schwanebeck at Cornerstone Grazing in the beautiful and rugged sandhills of Nebraska. Ten hours from home, meeting two people whom I greatly respect and admire – I was a nervous wreck.
Over the next three days, I had an opportunity to sit side-by-side with producers from across the Midwest and Western portion of the United States. We traded knowledge and stories like stocks on a hot market, and tell you what… I walked away much richer than I had been before I got there.
A definition of Management-intensive Grazing
Before we get into it, you might ask: what is Management-intensive Grazing (MiG)? So technically, MiG “is a flexible approach to rotational grazing management, whereby animal nutrient demand through the grazing season is balanced with forage supply, and available forage is allocated based on animal requirements.” Although that description was quite a mouthful, trust me when I say that it’s a far simpler concept once you put it into practice.
So, what did it boil down to for me: context, flexibility, and time.
Why asking the right questions can make you a better grazier
What is ‘context’? It is the lens through which we view the world. Things that factor into your context are your location, your business model, your goals, and your successes and failures. An example: my farm rents all the acres that we manage and raise five different livestock species for direct-to-consumer sales in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. Our context will be completely different than a rancher who has over 1,200 acres of native rangeland and raises stockers for a wholesaler market. What do we have in common? The ability to learn to ask the right questions, find better answers, and take steps to actively plan and navigate the direction of our business and life.
Some questions that come to mind:
- How many acres do I have?
- Average annual production on a good, bad, moderate year – how does it look?
- What plant species do I have and when are they prime for grazing?
- Do I know my actual utilization rate?
- Is my business model appropriate for my climate/lifestyle/geography?
- What can I do differently?
How flexibility makes you more agile and resilient to challenges
I think flexibility in decision-making is completely underrated – don’t you agree? As a person who didn’t grow up in an agricultural family, I’ve spent a lot of time watching and learning from those who’ve come before me. I’ve observed that the profitable farms and happy farmers I have worked with all have the innate ability to cultivate a flexible business and mindset.
Those who resist creativity and change because “we’ve always done it this way” are unknowingly risking their ability to get the best out of their business – and not to mention wellbeing. The only thing that remains constant is that things are constantly changing. MiG allows you, as a producer, to build in that flexibility. You become more resilient when challenges in life and nature comes your way.
Some examples of practicing flexibility:
- Do you have a pasture, or spot in a pasture that needs extra rest? Fence it off.
- Need a certain area of pasture grazed to the nub so you can no-till drill it? Change the amount of time your animals are on it and place your water strategically.
- Did the rain “turn off” and you now find yourself wondering if you have enough feed to get through the growing season? Do a forage inventory, make a feed budget, create a plan, or make the decision to destock before you overgraze and damage your pasture production for years to come.
One of the most profound sayings that I learned early on in my career, which had served me well, came from a marketing conference: “Fail small, fail often.” In the context of grazing, what does that look like?
I say don’t be afraid to try new things, ask for help, mess up, or start over – no matter what, you’ll still be ahead of the person that never tried at all.
How proper time management can impact your performance
Contrary to popular belief, time is the one thing you have the most control over in your operation. It is through the management of time that we can optimize our land and animal production. Think about it; your land will produce only so much during a season. You cannot make it rain (unless you have irrigation), and your animals consume a fixed amount of feed for their stock class and weight during a given time in the season.
Through the proper management of time you can:
- Minimize animal impact on your pastures
- Increase your animal production
- Increase your pasture utilization
- Give your pastures more rest to recover
- Decrease your dependence on outside feed and seed resources
If you can get real about how you manage your time, and the time your animals are allowed to graze in one area, you will see that managing your property as a function of time will pay you dividends in the future.
How to learn more about Management-intensive Grazing
I hope this helps you to see that Management-intensive Grazing is a great approach to grazing. This is because it sews flexibility into your business while taking stock of your context, so that you can spend your time productively. I’d highly recommend that you take a workshop with Jim Gerrish if you can. Alternatively, you can learn from the comfort of your own home; MaiaGrazing has webinars featuring Jim, such as the recent ‘Extending Summer’s Bounty’ seasonal webinar in partnership with Stockman Grass Farmer. Additionally, I’d recommend you try to visit a ranch that practices MiG (if not Derek Schwanebeck’s) – it will open your eyes to a different way of doing things.
This workshop re-affirmed my philosophy on driving performance through regenerative practices. It’s through professional development opportunities like this that enables me to adjust my lens. In turn, I can better guide MaiaGrazing customers in their use of our platform. The workshop also gave me the chance to trade ideas on grazing management. I’m looking forward to putting into practice what I’ve learned on our farm and in helping our MaiaGrazing customers.
- Find out more about MiG: Management-intensive Grazing: the Grassroots of Grass Farming
- Learn about Jim Gerrish and American Grazing Lands Services, LLC
- Learn about Derek Schwanebeck and Cornerstone Grazing
Let us support you through your grazing journey.
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