‘Cowboy GPS’ guides ranch planning
A GPS, or global positioning system, is a device used to help navigate from one location to another — essentially, it helps you find your way.
Nebraska ranchers Lynn and Marlene Myers, who operate the Tippetts-Myers Ranch near Lewellen, have developed their own unique GPS to help guide ranch management decisions. They say every ranch needs: “G” for goals, “P” for a philosophy to live by and “S” for a system to operate — all of which add up to what they call “Cowboy GPS.”
“It’s pretty simple,” Lynn Myers says. “You can’t get to where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been, and you don’t know where you’re at.”
To other ranchers, Myers suggests that by putting some thought into your own ranch decisions — or GPS — you’ll develop a roadmap for success.
Myers says that in addition to expecting cows to wean a healthy calf every year, they have these other goals for their ranch:
• Pass it to future generations.
• Be profitable.
• Improve the care of tall, warm-season grasses.
• Strive for long-term range health.
“Part of our range health goal is to heal blowouts, increase wildlife, increase ground cover and improve range condition and productivity,” Myers says. “This goal also goes back to profitability and passing the ranch on to the next generation.
“Sit down and think about your ranch and your goals,” he recommends. “You wouldn’t wear your neighbor’s boots; why would you use his goals?”
To this husband-wife team, P stands for your ranch philosophy, which encompasses what the land and people are able to produce. Myers calls this “property-ability” and “personal-ability.”
He adds, “The Sandhills of Nebraska is a fragile, environment. We have little topsoil, rains are unreliable, and poor management will ruin your rangeland. I have found people to help me understand how to manage my land.”
He credits a University of Nebraska program called SanDRIS, or Sandhills Defoliation Response Index System, that helps track pasture productivity by assigning values for moisture, residual cover and season of use.
By using the program, he has been able to minimize impact of drought and optimize recovery of his plant and range community. He adds that while SanDRIS is made for the Sandhills, other grazing indexes are available for different pasture and range types.
Given all of the factors that can influence the productivity of the land and the people, Myers says, “Pasture management is a juggling act where you must strive to balance year-to-year and long-term use.”
He believes it’s important to remember that what happened 10 years ago on the range affects your ranch today. And what happens to your range this year will impact how it will look 10 years from now.
Thus, part of their philosophy is to continually ask: “Where have we been? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? How do we cope with what Mother Nature may throw at us?”
“In the Sandhills, we are either in a drought, recovering from a drought, or going into a drought,” he says. To manage for this, the Tippetts-Myers ranch uses a deferred rotation grazing system and has a drought plan already determined to avoid making rash decisions during tense times.
Myers says a rotational grazing system is key to achieving their goals and philosophy. They had always utilized some form of rotational grazing, but now to keep in line with their land management goals, they rest the land even more. The result has been the ability to produce 50% more pounds of beef per acre.
The ranch uses a deferred rest rotation, which means during a three-year cycle every plant and pasture is rested during its major growing season. For the Sandhills, the rest occurs from June-August.
A monitoring program is an important part of the “system” to help give management direction for the future. He says several organizations such as USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service can be beneficial in helping design a system for your ranch and helping with grants and funding for land management practices.
The Tippetts-Myers ranch is currently being operated by the fifth and sixth generations. Myers hopes that by using the Cowboy GPS the ranch will be viable for future generations as well.
Gordon writes from Whitewood, S.D.
Editor’s note: This fall, Lynn Myers was named the annual winner of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Outstanding Service to Panhandle Agriculture Award.
I like acronyms, so that’s how I came up with “Cowboy GPS.” It stands for goals, philosophy and system. But I’m often asked when I present a program on Cowboy GPS, “How do we build our GPS?”
Here is my outline.
Keep it sustainable and simple, or KISS, with the whole operation in mind. Look at goals — long term and short term. Understand that your goals will change as your operation changes. Weather dictates changes, as well as the market. Leave some flexibility in your program.
Write down your long-term goals first. Use your short-term goals to achieve operation success. Make them realistic and and an attainable guide to manage by.
Your philosophy guides you and your operation. Look at your philosophy in relation to the ability of your property to produce, and the ability, experience and expertise of you and your employees. Remember your plans must fit together as a whole. You can’t accomplish what you can’t get done.
Systems refer to the means to make your goals and philosophy work. There are many good grazing systems in operation across the country. The one important thing to consider when you decide what’s best for you is keep it sustainable and simple. Don’t try to maximize everything; instead, try to optimize a balance between investments and return on investments — what you can afford and what is sustainable.
Don’t overextend past what you and your help can live with. Don’t make it so complex that you or your employees get disillusioned. I’ve seen this become a problem in operations that don’t have the expertise and common sense to know what is possible.
There are many good resources you can use to put together a system, but make sure it’s yours, not a consultant’s or neighbor’s. Only you know your strong points and limitations.
Reach me at my home number at 308-577-6356 or on my cell at 308-770-6356.
This article published in the January, 2011 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.