State of the Farm

People sometimes ask why we call ourselves "farmers" rather than "ranchers". It's a legitimate question since we raise livestock as our primary product. But the answer lies in our motto, "Grass. It's What We Do." That says it all about how we think of ourselves. We are grass farmers. Grass is our primary crop, and it's what makes everything else work.

So if grass is our crop, what are our cows and pigs? Our harvesters, of course. Except they are not $100,000 John Deere tractors. They are producers rather than expenses. Nice system, wouldn't you agree? Mother Nature knows best. This system was devised a long, long time ago. It has only been re-discovered, not invented, in modern times. If PawPaw was alive, he would tell you we are only doing what was done before the post-WWII “get big era”.

Keeping in mind that we are grass farmers is important to our day to day activities. It guides and reminds us daily that grass must be protected and watched at all times. Our pastures are divided into eights as are our pig paddocks. These divisions allow us to monitor and limit the amount of grass harvested by our creatures and affords recovery time for each of those divisions. The basic thesis that becomes the daily operating rule is to leave 1/2 the grasses available for harvest to act as solar panels for the next growth cycle. Move the livestock to the next pasture or paddock which assumedly will be ready because it was rested and allowed to regrow fresh grass blades for the next batch of harvesters. The further you go beyond the "1/2 harvest" rule, the longer the recovery time becomes. So stick to the operating rule, even if it means putting out a bale of hay while you await the next pasture's maturity.

So there you have our short term operating thesis. What are we looking looking at for the longer term?  2 parameters: will we get through the warm season without running out of grass; and which pastures will be planted first with our cool season grasses? The first parameter is decided by the eyeball test - experience over nearly 30 years tells us where each forward pasture will be in 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks or more. The second parameter looks at the two pastures that are irrigated. We want to plant them first in winter grasses and if there is no rain, we can still get water to them from our deep well. Just as grass is what we do, rain is what grass does. We are looking to finish our irrigated pastures first so that we can then plant our winter pasture, relying on the other 6 pastures to get our livestock through until the first crop of winter pasture is ready for the harvesters.

There are several secondary factors to consider not mentioned here, but this gives you a broad sense of what goes into being grass farmers as well as the growing-out of the harvesters. We're dancing with Mother Nature, folks. She has a lot of moves. Pay attention!

Mark Sternfels

Houston, TX