Implementing Best Management Practices in a livestock business
By Brett Burgess
CSU Range and Livestock Extension Agent
I had a great conversation a few weeks ago with Erik Tucker. Erik works for Ordway Feed Yard and operates a small family run feedlot outside of Ordway. We had a discussion in my office that covered a plethora of topics ranging from drought, feed cost, economics, markets, heifers, steers, sustainability and the need for diversity in the livestock industry. I was impressed with his knowledge of the cattle industry and his ability to be honest in his responses regardless of the outcome.
As the conversation developed, I realized Erik had an understanding of the importance of implementing Best Management Practices into a long-term plan for his business and his personal life, while allowing for flexibility and adjustment. He understood the necessity of overlapping the two for the best outcome, while making tough decisions that will move his business and family forward. During our conversation, he said something I have heard many times, realizing it fits perfectly into the challenges of today's livestock industry: "You can't do the same thing over and over, and expect different results." How true this statement is. So how do we implement change into our livestock management and economic needs?
The simplest response is there's no single cookbook or recipe to fit all situations. Each management strategy should be unique to specific goals and objectives that are only measurable by your distinctive circumstances. When we apply Best Management Practices we should ask ourselves the five questions of: What? Why? Where? When? How? What are we managing? Does management focus on managing livestock for harvest of rangeland forage so desired plant communities are stable and maintained? Why do we manage?
I've heard it said livestock producers raise grass, and a by-product of proper management is marketable livestock. Harvesting forage at a sustainable level increases plant health, nutritional value and maintains healthy ground cover, while creating an economic benefit. Where do we manage? The simple answer is wherever livestock have a minor or long-term impact on the available resources of plants, soil and water. When do we manage? Some form of management plan should be implemented and followed at all times. Regardless of the size of an operation, the need for a grazing strategy that works for you, and is sustainable, is essential. And the big question of how? The short answer is by developing and implementing a grazing system that best meets your forage resources and economic needs. There are many grazing systems and strategies out there, but they need to be tailored to your soil types, vegetation structure and your animal's grazing behavior. The proper system or combination of systems must be selected to fit any given site.
When applying Best Management Practices things to consider include: range type and condition, range site potential and soil type, plant growth rates, season of use, precipitation (or in our case the lack of), stocking rates, and type and class of livestock. I'm sure you have heard these strategies in one form or another, and wonder how it can create lasting permanent change. The answer lies in the question. We must take care to maintain a long-term perspective, while implementing revision into our adjustments. In the livestock industry there is no means to an end, but rather flexibility in the journey.
For more information on Best Management Practices please contact your local CSU Extension Office: Baca County, 719-523-6971; Bent County, 719-456-0764; Cheyenne County, 719-767-5716; Crowley County, 719-267-5243; Kiowa County, 719-438-5321; Otero County, 719-254-7608; Prowers County, 719-336-7734, or you can find us on the web at http://www.extension.colostate.edu/SEA. CSU Extension offers up-to-date, unbiased, research-based information to families in southeast Colorado.