One of the most important considerations in purchasing a ranch is whether it is well-balanced.
Well-balanced ranches are ones where the feed resources sustain the feed requirements of the livestock year-round. The most common scenario is when the summer grass production is equal to the amount of winter feed production (typically hay or equivalents which are mechanically harvested). However, one must consider the feed requirements during the spring and fall seasons and whether that is going to be met by summer grass production or by harvesting winter feed resources to be fed later when the animal cannot graze (such as when snow cover prevents grazing, or the quality of the grass is not sufficient to sustain the animal through grazing). Grasses produced for grazing are most valuable in that they occur naturally without cost while feed harvested comes with the cost of harvesting. These situations determine both the cost-effectiveness and sustainability of a ranch.
Reason 1. Ranches that produce naturally occurring grass that can be grazed and raise enough harvested feed otherwise are the most desirable, being cost-effective and sustainable.
Reason 2. Ranches short of winter feed production require the owner to buy hay each year, possibly when hay is very expensive and thus less sustainable.
Reason 3. Ranches that produce more harvested feed than naturally grown grasses are more expensive to operate and thus less sustainable.
Reason 4. Ranches that only produce naturally occurring grass and no harvested feed (i.e., they graze year-round such as some ranches in the Great Basin and the Southwest) can be very cost-effective. However, in periods of drought, either hay must be purchased or the livestock must be sold.
Reason 5. Ranches that produce mostly harvested feed and very little grass production, such as an irrigated farm divided into units of summer grass and winter harvested feed, are more costly to operate and less sustainable.
Spring Valley Ranch & Cattle, located in the Nebraska Sandhills, is a great model for a well-balanced ranch that is cost-effective and sustainable in the world of cattle ranching. Spring Valley Ranch & Cattle is well balanced, producing ample summer feeding needs and balanced with hay production allowing the ranch to run most efficiently, reducing trucking of hay and cattle, and thereby enhancing its sustainability. Cattle management does not till the soil, so there is constant sequestration going on through the growing season. Through its natural grass-fed program, Spring Valley Ranch & Cattle does not use grain-based feeding programs, which enhances its sustainability and improves its carbon footprint. The ranch has improved its water distribution system with underground pipelines supplying water drinkers over a more uniform distribution area. This provides management with the ability to engage in high-density, short-duration rotation programs which improve plant and soil health through increased organic matter.
Managing multiple economic and ecological goals, such as cattle production, wildlife habitat, recreation, and rare plant conservation, can be beneficial to ranchers and communities, increasing income and conservation.
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