I had an opportunity a couple of weeks ago to meet up with Glenn Spencer, our sales manager, at the Grady Ranch on Highway 6 in northern Missouri. It was one of those picture perfect sunny days after some healthy rainfall this spring. The row croppers are working around the mud and the graziers are smiling again this year. The Gradys were gracious hosts and gave us a nice tour of their grass farm.
This is the first of a series of Producer Profiles that I will be writing in the upcoming months. It is my hope to visit with a lot of different types of grazing operations and in different sections of the USA. The Grady’s “story” intrigued me from the beginning and I was anxious to meet them, visit with them and ask about the transitions they have gone through. Will and Cindy are not born and bred Missouri grass farmers. They have relocated to Missouri from the high desert region of northwest Colorado. A little over two years ago they moved their 300 momma cows to this new environment.
Their operation in Colorado was spread out on over 20,000 acres of owned land and government grazing leases. It was located near Meeker, Colorado. Having personally lived in Colorado myself, I am somewhat familiar with their area. Most of the grasses in this high desert region are short wheat grasses and native clump types of grasses. For most of the year grazing is sparse.
Their ranch in Colorado had good water rights and an adequate amount of hay meadows. They commented on the fact that they spent six months of the year tending to haying and irrigation in order to have enough hay to make it through the winter. Their cattle often had to travel from two to three miles to water, basically moving all the time. They also competed for forage with resident herds of elk and deer.
I asked Cindy what was the determining factor that made them decide to relocate to the Midwest. Her first response was simply, “The color of green.” Green grass that is. She also elaborated on the fact that in Colorado, they had two basic things: recreation and livestock. She commented that in the Midwest, there are many more opportunities, options and choices. Will commented on the lack of winter grazing in Colorado and the amount of work involved in irrigation and haying.
I also picked up on the fact that the extended grazing season in Missouri is very pleasing to them. They left an area that received from 10 to 12 inches of annual precipitation to one with over 30 inches. Basically – two different worlds. The Missouri farm is about 1,200 acres and all in grass except for a 70 acre area of double cropped triticale and forage soybeans that they bale up as haylage. This provides about 10 tons of haylage per acre.
I asked about the genetics of their cattle. Their cow group is comprised of primarily Black Simmental / Angus cross breeding. The average momma cow weight is around 1,300 pounds. They use both Black Simmental and Angus bulls for breeding. I asked how the transition from Colorado to Missouri had been for the cattle. They answered in unison, with eyebrows raised, “Wow – it’s been a learning curve for sure.” They feel strongly that it has taken a full two-year adjustment period for their cows to get used to their new environment. They admitted that the adaption of the cattle to Missouri fescue has definitely been a challenge and continues to be an attentive matter to them.
But after this initial two-year curve, things are looking up and the cattle looked in great shape to me. They commented that it hasn’t always been this good. They elaborated on some of the early experiences. These cattle are walkers…they were used to walking all the time and covering a lot of country. As they put them into new smaller pastures, they would go through and eat all the clovers, then standing in waist high fescue they would walk and walk, looking for more clover and not wanting to graze the fescue. They lost weight and were unhappy bovines standing in knee high grass and continually moving.
They currently sell calves in the 500 to 600 pound bracket. They hold back some heifers and are looking at doing some backgrounding in the future. Based on the amount and quality of grass that I saw on the farm, I thought it was a good option for them to consider, depending on the cattle market at those particular times. Cindy also showed us some of the pigs and sheep. I put my name on the list for a butcher hog next fall.
The new Missouri farm had previously been owned by a local sale barn owner, who also owned a grain commodity company. This land had been continuously grazed in large numbers in large pastures with few good cross fences. Most water sources were in the form of unfenced ponds.
They knew that they had a lot of work to do. They are young and very active and I believe that they are up to the tasks ahead of them. There is a lot of fencing that needs to be done and they have plans for an intensive watering system to be installed. They have a ten acre lake that will provide the water source for the watering system. This supply line of the new water system will be a 2-inch HDPE pipe with some smaller diameters being used to branch off of into individual paddocks. I asked if they were going to hire out some of this work to be done, but they prefer to do it all themselves. They do have a good selection of equipment to work with.
I asked about the water tanks that they will be installing in the paddocks. They had used tire tanks in Colorado and had been pleased with them, so they intend to install many tire tanks around the property. Will commented that he was having a harder time locating the larger tires that he used out West. Out there they used some rather large diameter tires from some of the mining operations in the area.
During this two year period they have constructed several out buildings and built a new home. They have regenerated a lot of pasture and put in some cross fences. There is a lifetime of work yet to be done and they are approaching it with enthusiasm. I asked how they were handling the humidity of Missouri. They both commented that they actually liked it and we visited about the dry and windy conditions of northwest Colorado. Personally, I kind of liked the dry air of the West, but never did get used to the wind blowing continuously.
They are enjoying a longer growing season, coping with rain and with mud. They are learning how to work with fescue and using new grazing patterns to keep their cattle happy and in good shape. As we toured one large pasture that had been grazed two weeks prior; the re-growth was fantastic and it was obvious to me that they are learning their grasses and benefiting from the efforts. It is not an overnight success story, yet, but they are experimenting and learning. They have gotten involved with some different networks of other people willing to share knowledge.
It was during the early “asking questions stages” that they met Glenn Spencer. They had studied, read and researched “management intensive grazing” but had little hands on experience with it. They didn’t know where to purchase products and weren’t getting many answers to their questions. Glenn was willing to share his knowledge and hands on experiences with them and have become very good friends ever since.
I asked if they had used much electric fencing while in Colorado and the answer was very little. Due to the basic expanse of country that they were grazing out west, it just didn’t fit the program. Glenn was the one who introduced them to high tensile wire and PasturePro posts. Will, scratches his head and wonders why it took so long to get exposed to this stuff. He says it’s so easy to put up and so much more economical. The cattle respect it and it is also very flexible. They both love the PasturePro posts and have plans to add many more cross fences and replace some exterior fences as well.
After being asked if they had any suggestions for other people that may be contemplating a move such as theirs, the Gradys offered the following advice:
“We would advise anyone moving to a new area to research as much as possible and find a local mentor. We have a great friend in Wyatt Christensen and his family and they deserve mention in our continued progress. They have been helpful with not only advice, but with hands on help and new ideas that we try out together. Also, we feel that fescue is a management issue that we think has some real good points and benefits, especially in stockpiled forage.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the Grady’s genuine hospitality and the visit with them. Glenn commented on the rather impressive improvements that he saw today, compared to when they first arrived here and his first visit to their farm, a couple years ago. I hope and am sure we will keep in touch over the years.