Pat Guptill, long time South Dakota cattle rancher and proponent of Year Round Grazing, explains what it is, why it works and how to get started.
By Mike Cox
Pat Guptill lives in Quinn, South Dakota, a small town just north of the Badlands National Park, on a 7000 acre ranch. In a recent Growing Resilience podcast, he gave great insight into Adaptive Grazing Management. In this conversation with Buz Kloot, he discusses Year Round Grazing.
Pat says the primary reasons for doing Year Round Grazing is to reduce costs and eliminate winter cattle work. "Calving in sync with nature isn't all a bed of roses. No matter what you do, if you own cattle you're going to have issues. But do I want to be out there working with cattle in a blizzard or on green grass at 65, 70 degrees?"
When Pat Guptill gets questions about Year Round Grazing, they range from, "Can you teach me that?" to, "You're gonna go broke." There is a wide range of beliefs on this subject based on many factors. "But one of the things that we haven't understood is when you calve away from when Mother Nature says you should; usually when the deer have their babies, that's when (your cows) should be having babies. Okay? The farther away from that point you get, the higher the input cost is going to be."
According to Guptill, the first thing a rancher should do if he's beginning Year Round Grazing, is to get the calving process in sync with Nature. Have babies when the deer and bison do, typically in May. Once this is achieved, everything else should fall into place.
Perception is a major reason some folks don't try this method. "Let's say we're going to calve in March. Now that cow has to be in body conditions, score five and a half to six, or she won't re-breed real easy." Pat's cows run about a 4 body condition score (BCS) in March, which doesn't look good to ranchers used to calving that early. To have a cow at a BCS of 5-6 to calve in March requires that rancher to feed mama cows all winter with high quality feed. That's really expensive.
"The whole thought process is let that cow slip all winter and then when March arrives, she starts to gain. That's what the Buffalo did and our cows are not going to fall apart if we let them slip, if we're calving at the right time for our area. Does that kind of make sense?" Pat can have cows at a 5-6 BCS on May 20, ready for calving, and not spend anywhere near as much on premium feed. 80% of winter feed costs is preparing cows for March calving.
Hay may still be necessary for winter grazing as insurance, but the rancher can determine when and how much hay to feed based on weather and grass conditions. As long as cattle are able to graze, hay isn't necessary. If ice forms, or high protein grass isn't available, then hay may be required. However, feeding hay isn’t part of the daily winter routine for Pat.
During Winter, cattle can graze in the snow, but not on ice. With the snow, they use their snouts to move snow aside to reach grass. Water isn't as necessary when cattle are snow grazing. They will eat a few mouthfuls of grass then lick the snow for moisture. Hay is drier and requires water tanks to be filled, and the surface ice broken regularly.
"Study more and do the paperwork. Figure the savings. We can't make our cattle worth more but we can reduce cost input." Pat has also found that calving in late Spring results in more pounds sold. "Our cattle may be smaller at sale but there are more of them."
Pat suggests to anybody that wants to start this, they need to "put their feet under the table with somebody that's already doing it," and sit down and figure. One afternoon, a cup of drinking coffee, and visit; and a lot of things will fall in place for them.
"A lot of us have done this. We've already made mistakes. There's no sense other people making our mistakes. You go make your own mistakes, but don't forget to share them with me so I don't make them."
In addition, we provide some links that feature Pat:
For more information on Year Round Grazing, watch this podcast:
Video: “Year Round Grazing: A Change you can believe in”:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYczr2Lv-SA 2013 SD Leopold Award: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGsjUdScWZM A 2014 video by SDSU visits with Pat about High Stock Density grazing (Pat doesn’t necessarily like to use the words “Mob Grazing”) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWC9qkYdDNA In 2021, Pat and wife Mary Lou, through the SD NOLO (Non-Operating Land Owner) project, discuss “Understanding the Connection: Stress Reduction Through Soil Health”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfIJp-M1K5U Also please visit the SD NRCS Range and Pasture website for more information at:https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/conservation-basics/natural-resource-concerns/animals
Visit these “Growing Resilience Through Our Soils” information pages:
1. Podcast page for drought planning fact sheets, Q&As, news, podcasts and more.
2. Video page to watch videos of other ranchers’ journeys toward improved rangeland/pasture.
3.Follow Growing Resilience on social media:
4. Our homepage: www.growingresiliencesd.com