LUSK – The ages ranged from young 20-somethings to those upwards of 70, male and female, new, first-time farmers to fifth generation cattle producers, pickup trucks to motorcycles. Attendees of the Audubon of the Rockies Grazing Workshop represented a cross section of modern agriculture.
Dusty Downy was present representing the Audubon Conservation Ranching Program. This program is a market-based approach to grassland conservation. The thought behind the program is to work with ranchers to help slow the decline of grasslands birds. Of all the bird habitats, grassland birds have experienced the worst decline over the last fifty years with an over 53% decrease in populations. The Audubon Society wants to partner with ranchers, the largest private owners of grassland habitat, to try and slow that decline.
The program seeks to help ranchers create a more marketable beef product for consumers by going through a certification program that allows those running “ranch to consumer” businesses to label their beef “grazed on Audubon certified bird friendly land.”
The Audubon Society has 3 million members nationwide and based on research, those members don’t always understand all the other labels on their beef but do understand “bird friendly beef”.
According to Downy, while the program does have some requirements that may be too restrictive for some ranchers, the ultimately goal is to help beef cattle ranchers tell the story of ranching in a whole new way. The Audubon Society is ultimately willing to help market and show consumers the conservation side of ranching while hopefully getting ranchers a little bit more money for their product.
The goals of the program include having over three million enrolled acres by the end of 2022 and reach over 40 million consumers with marketing by the end of 2021. The program is well on its way with over 100 ranches currently enrolled spanning thirteen states and accounting for a little over two million acres.
Following the information, the Audubon’s program, Ranching for Profit, Inc. owner Dallas Mount took the mike to get down to the reason most attendees were there, to benefit from over 40 years of knowledge and research regarding grazing practices to help their ranching operations.
The purpose of the workshop was to help those present begin to understand the elements of economic leverage of Grazing Management.
The Ranching for Profit schools are based on the idea that knowing how to raise livestock is not the same thing as knowing how to run a business that raises livestock. The class started by immediately getting to the “root” of the issue both ideologically and in botanical terms. Mount impressed upon the attendees how important it is to know “Who are you, what is your ranching outfit about? What are your core values and goals?”
He then took this a step further and challenged those present to talk about their financial picture and gross margins from a business perspective, framed by the answers to those questions.
The classroom portion of the day was two hours and included small group and total group discussion points. Mount tied in basic grass and soil maintenance knowledge and practices with some testimonials from ranches that have effectively used this knowledge to make significant gains in stocking rates and range condition.
Mount does not claim that the grazing management practices discussed in the program are the magic bullet, but rather a change in paradigm that is a key component to turning around a ranch’s business profitability to try and, ultimately, “make a profit.”
Following the classroom workshop, lunch was served by the Niobrara County Homemakers. Attendees were then invited to do some field study on some pastures south of Lusk owned by Askin Land and Cattle, Sage and Faith Askin. Askins have previously worked with Mount and committed their multiple operations, largely cattle and sheep to those practices learned in Ranching for Profit.
Attendees expressed their appreciation for this opportunity for learning. Some had attended the ranching for-profit schools while others were very interested in the perspective, and this was an economical way to find out if the concepts would be something they were interested in learning more about. Even if they chose not to go any further with the class, the information gained from the workshop was enough to get most of them thinking a little differently about their ranching operation, and maybe even begin the wheels of change, which is all the Audubon society is asking.